The three elected officers of the Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA) detained since December 2006 have finally been released on 22 March. Tilahun Ayalew, Meqcha Mengistu and Antenech Getenet were detained and tortured by the police for over three months. They were freed from custody when they last appeared in court in Addis Ababa on 16 March.
3 months of severe beatings
Neither the three men nor their lawyers were given any explanation for their arrest. During their detention, they were tortured to try to make them confess that the ETA was supporting a rebel opposition front.
All three of them suffered severe injuries as a result of the physical assaults. Tilahun Ayalew, chairperson of the ETA's Awi zone, now has a fractured leg bone. Meqcha Mengistu, chairperson of the ETA's East Gojam Zonal Executive and member of the ETA's EFAIDS Committee, sustained persistent bleeding in one of his ears and now has hearing problems. Anteneh Getnet, member of the ETA's Addis Ababa Regional Council, has scars on his arms and forehead, and both of his arms are now deformed. Earlier in May 2006, Antenech was abducted by unidentified assailants. He suffered severe beatings and almost died.
More than 10 times in court
During their detention, the three colleagues appeared more than ten times in court. Each time, the judge adjourned their case to "allow the police to undertake further investigation". Eventually on 5 March, the court ordered their release but the police continued to detain them in custody. On 16 March, the Federal First Instance Court ordered their release without condition, and they were finally freed on 22 March.
The ETA thanks all EI member organiasations around the world for their solidarity
EI member organisations responded overwhelmingly to the Urgent Action Appeal launched on 4 January 2007. Letters from over 60 countries from all continents flooded the cabinet of the Ethiopian Prime Minister. Some organisations also addressed copies of their letters to their Foreign Office and the Ethiopian representatives in their countries.
The massive show of solidarity made a difference in the development of the events. The support astounded security officers and co-detainees, and most likely halted the severe beatings being suffered by the three men.
Support from EI partners, such as Amnesty International's declaration of the three men as Prisoners of Conscience, has likewise been intrumental in securing their release.
EI will continue monitoring the case
Unfortunately, life has not returned to normal for the three teachers.
Tilahun and Meqcha, who both teach in different schools, were not welcomed back by their headmasters upon their return. They were requested to provide written evidence to justify their absence, i.e. proof that they had actually been detained. However, the Addis Ababa police refused to produce any such certificate. It is still unclear whether they will be reinstated to their teaching duties. As for Antenech, the series of physical assaults has left him physically unable to resume teaching in the near future.
EI will continue to monitor the situation together with the ETA, and will try to ensure the full reinstatement of the three teachers.