Human Rights

Reign of terror in Maikelawi detention centre

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Maikelawi prison - tbij

An artist’s impression of Maikelawi detention centre

Maikelawi is a police detention facility in the centre of the Ethiopian capital. It is mentioned time and again in any conversation about human rights abuses.

For the Ethiopians’ it is the ‘African Guantanamo Bay’.

Arbitrary detention and torture
According to opposition members it is mostly political opponents who are taken to the police’s Central Investigation Centre in Maikelawi.


When our case was being heard in court, prosecutors produced witnesses from amongst the prisoners. They were paid. The government had no other witnesses.

‘Daniel’

We met ‘Daniel’ who was previously a captain in the Ethiopian army and recently detained at Maikelawi. He told us:

‘The interrogation was always at night. They started by beating; they would tie your hands and feet with iron and hang you upside down. They immerse you in water, they would use electric shocks and they stuffed your mouth with cloth so no-one could hear you scream.

‘Each person [detained] suffered horrific injuries as a result of the torture. Some had lost the use of their hands, some had lost their nails. There was a man who was hanged by his hand for over 19 hours.’

‘Daniel’s claims, along with others’, are consistent with reports that have been published by credible human rights organisations.

In 2010 Human Rights Watch stated:

[prisoners] described similar, consistently horrific experiences at Maikelawi. They included lengthy nights of physical mistreatment, including: being made to lie on the ground, handcuffed, blindfolded, and in some cases naked, while interrogators wearing military boots stood on their chests; being whipped with wire and beaten on the head and the insides of their feet; being gagged, hung upside down, and beaten with electrical cords; being threatened with injection of HIV-infected blood; and being subjected to ethnic slurs.

Systematic abuse at the highest level
Ethiopia acceded to the UN Convention against Torture  in 1994 and incorporated similar provisions in its constitution, yet testimonial obtained by the Bureau would suggest that it is in flagrant violation of these laws.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been tasked with ensuring human rights abuses in detention centres are reported to the Ethiopian government. The organisation has been assigned US$6m by international donors under the UN’s development programme for good governance.

Ethiopian Police 2005- Flickr/aheavens

To date the EHRC has not reported any human rights abuses in Maikelawi.

Human rights organisations are adamant that rather than being carried out by rogue individuals, the abuse is systematic, permeating every level of the security and even the judicial forces.

The Bureau has been unable to independently identify each of the testimonies.

Amerar Bayabel said that after 14 consecutive days of torture: ‘I was asked to be a witness against others. When I refused to do so, they accused me of a crime.’


‘We appeal to the international community, especially diplomats, please challenge the Ethiopia government on what is happening- it is not a normal prison.  But they say that would be interfering with the government- it is apologetic, they are not pressing hard to get access to what is going on.

Merera Gudina, opposition leader

Second Sergeant Yibeltal Birhanu recounted that in May 2009: ‘I was as usual taken blindfolded and handcuffed, to the interrogation room. They told me they wanted me to be a witness. I asked who they wanted me to be a witness against.

‘They told me they wanted me to tell the court that [the defendents] had promised to give me money if I killed government officials. I told the interrogator I did not know these people and would never be a witness against them. Then they started beating me.’