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Ethiopia fires senior prison officials for failing to respect rights

ADDIS ABABA,  – Ethiopia fired five senior prison officials, hours before the release of a Human Rights Watch report that detailed torture and other abuses in one notorious prison and urged the government to hold officials to account.

The sackings are the latest in a range of sweeping reforms by 41-year-old prime minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April.

Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye’s announcement of the dismissals, including the director of the federal prison administration, was broadcast late on Wednesday on state-affiliated television Fana.

He said replacements should respect rights in accordance with the constitution.

Abiy recently replaced the chief of staff of the army and the head of national intelligence, and the prison dismissals come weeks after Abiy spoke before parliament with unprecedented frankness about the extent of abuses by security forces on his predecessor’s watch.

“Police flogged. This is unconstitutional. Police were terrorists,” Abiy told parliament in mid-June.

 Despite the recent announcements, Abiy has yet to dismantle Ethiopia’s culture of impunity and ensure accountability for abuses by the security forces, said Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Prisoners in Jail Ogaden in the Somali region of the country were systematically abused for years with little access to medical care and at times to food, New York-based HRW said in its report.

Detainees said they were stripped naked and beaten in front of the entire prison population and made to carry out humiliating acts in front of fellow inmates to instil fear.

Since taking office on April 2, Abiy has pushed for wide-ranging political and economic reforms in Ethiopia.

However, analysts say a major hurdle to Abiy’s plans is resistance from hardliners in the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party that has dominated Ethiopian politics since 1991 when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) drove Mengistu Haile Mariam’s regime from power after a civil war.

The TPLF is dominated by ethnic Tigrayans, while Abiy is an ethnic Oromo.

The ruling EPRDF coalition chose Abiy as the new prime minister after three years of protests forced his predecessor to resign earlier this year.

Gebreyesus Gebregziabher, the former director of the federal prison administration, is a member of the TPLF while his replacement is a member of Abiy’s party, the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation

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