23 killed at Qilinto Maximum Prison, government admits
By Ethiomedia
September 5, 2016

Prominent opposition leader Bekele Gerba
UPDATE - Twenty-three inmates were killed when a fire broke out at the Qilinto Maximum Prison on Saturday, the state-owned Fana Broadcasting Corp. quoted a government statement as saying. The report said most of the victims were killed during a stampede while two were killed by prison guards. When Ethiomedia reported that at least 20 were killed, the government said only one person was killed. When the government says 23 are killed, it means the number could be much higher, probably close to 100, a figure we will never know without an independent investigation. The whereabouts of prominent prisoners and journalists remains unknown. Families of inmates have traveled to as far as Ziway Prison and Shewa Robit Prisons in case their jailed family members ended up there from Qilinto.

<1>Witnesses accuse TPLF of setting up the deadly prison trap

ADDIS ABABA (Sept 5) - The fire and ensuing gunfire that killed at least 20 inmates at Qilinto maximum security prison on Saturday were clearly the work of the government, witnesses have told the media.

"At 8 o'clock in the morning, we were waiting for the guards to open the gate for us to hand over meals and other necessities for our loved ones being held there," a relative of one political prisoner said.

"Unlike other days, we were forced to stay away... until about 9:30 AM when an outburst of gunfire was heard. we were in the middle of what seemed a war zone. We were running in every direction to save our lives," the witness, who sought anonymity for fear of a government reprisal, said.

"They [the government] knew what they were doing. They had a plan to start fire and mow down inmates under the pretext of stopping a jailbreak." the witness added.

A second witness also shared the same line of story that there was no gunfire and no smoke until around 9:30 AM when we were at risk of being killed from gunshots.

"The guards kept us away from the prison compound for what seemed nearly two hours when all of a sudden chaos reigned: shots were being fired. Then from a distance we began to see a heartbreaking scene: plumes of smoke rising from the quarters where high-profile prisoners like Bekele Gerba and Yonatan Tesfaye were being held."

Throughout the day, the place looked like a battle site. Ambulances rushing victims to hospitals. Fire fighters fighting the blaze. And yet guards were busy firing shots. Though victims were being taken to mainly three hospitals in Addis, they were off-limits to visitors some of whom were openly crying for their loved ones who didn't know whether they were dead or alive.

St. Paul's hospital Forensic Unit received the bodies of about 20 inmates while other hospitals, Tirunesh Beijing General Hospital and Police Hospital were flooded with the wounded, sources said.

Until this hour, the government has released no information on the identities of the victims, despite saying the cause of the fire was under investigation.

Over 3,000 inmates were being held in three zones of Qilinto Prison. Each zone has eight prison halls, housing close to one thousand inmates. Of all, Zone 2 was reportedly destroyed by the fire. Families of inmates were going to prisons in other towns like Ziway and Shewa Robit in case they were there.

 

At least 20 killed at Qilinto Maximum Prison in Ethiopia

WASHINGTON, DC (Sept 3) - At least 20 prisoners were killed and many others injured Saturday night when fire broke out at a prison housing the most prominent opposition leaders as well as religious figures and university students.

Qilinto Prison, which is on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, is where Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) leader Bekele Gerba and his comrades as well as the leading members of the Muslim committee were serving time.

Most of the dead were killed after they were shot at by security guards of the prison.

The state-owned EBC TV put the toll as one person dead, and six others injured. The public usually discredits EBC as baseless and a propaganda tool of the ruling party.

The prison remains cordoned off to public, saying the cause of the fire was under investigation. No victims have been identified by their names either, throwing families and friends of the prisoners into confusion and anxiety.

TPLF, the dominant group in the coalition EPRDF, has a history of setting prisons on fire, and when inmates flee, greeting them with an outburst of machine-gun fire.

"We are seriously worried about the fate of our leaders, members and supporters of our party," OFC deputy Mulatu Gemechu told VOA correspondent Eskinder Frew on Tuesday.

He said the Qilinto Fire tragedy was reminiscent of the Ambo Prison and Gonder Prison tragedies. In both cases, prisoners who were trying to save themselves by fleeing the inferno were gunned down by security guards.

A report of the nearly two-dozen deaths of prison inmates has not been verified by an independent body.

The ruling TPLF party, in power since 1991, is facing widespread public uprising, notably in Oromia and Amhara regions. Lately, the regime has deployed the military in the rebelling regions, and human rights activits fear atrocities may have been already committed thanks to a news blackout that the government has imposed either by shutting down the Internet or other means of public communications.

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