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RIC Query - Ethiopia (27 November 2002)




Response to Information Request Number:ETH03003.ZLA
Date:November 27, 2002
Subject:Ethiopia: Information on Maikelawi [also Maekelawi/Ma¿ekelawi] Prison; and on ¿Central Prison¿ and ¿Woyane Prison¿
From:INS Resource Information Center
Keywords:Ethiopia / Detained persons / Detention / Gross human rights violations / Imprisoned persons / Political prisoners / Prison conditions / Torture




Please provide information, such as location, facilities/services and other relevant information on Maikelawi [also Maekelawi/Ma¿ekelawi] Prison in Ethiopia. Also, please provide similar information about ¿Central Prison¿ and ¿Woyane Prison.¿


The central prison in Addis Ababa is commonly known as Kerchele, or Karchale, a corruption of the Italian word for prison, carcere, introduced into the country in 1936-41 (ETHIOPIA REPORTER 2001). Maikelawi is a police investigation center in Addis Ababa, where prisoners have reportedly been kept in underground cells and tortured. Although central prison and Maikelawi are separate locations, a number of sources have also referred to Maikelawi as a prison. Both the central prison (Kerchele) and Maikelawi have been associated with serious human rights violations.

The Oromia Support Group in a press release reported, ¿journalist, Solomon Namarra, and Save the Children Fund accountant, Gabissa Lamessa, were transferred from Addis Ababa central prison at Karchale to underground cells at Maikelawi Special Investigation Centre during December¿ (OSG Feb-Apr 1998).

A report from the Oromia Support Group in 1998 stated ¿Worku Mulatta was being taken by closed van from Maikelawi at night, three times per week, to another destination where he was being tortured¿ (Trueman 29 May 1998).

In a report to the Committee Against Torture:

"The author states that he was kept in detention for 24 hours in Awasa and then transferred to the central prison, "Meakelawi Eser Bete", in Addis Ababa. After three days, he was taken to "Kerchele" prison where he was kept for one year and seven months. He was never tried or had contact with a lawyer. The treatment in prison was similar to what the author had experienced during his first imprisonment. He says that he was taken to the torture room and threatened that he would be shot if he did not cooperate" (Univ of Minnesota 1999).

Another report cited conditions in Maikelawi investigations center and in the Karchale prison:

"Solomon Namarra was acting Editor-in-Chief of URJII newspaper when he was taken with Tesfaye Dheressa, his assistant, from the URJII office on 16 October 1997. In common with many, he remained in Maikelawi Special Investigation Centre for several months despite a Federal High Court ruling in May 1998 ordering that all of the 65 Oromo charged with conspiracy be transferred to Karchale. As special punishment, Solomon Namarra was shackled by arms and legs, needing help to feed himself, until his inclusion in an International PEN campaign in December 1998. Within one week of having his shackles removed, he was transferred back to Maikelawi" (OSG Feb-Apr 1998).

A 1995 report from Amnesty International documented human rights violations committed in the Maikelawi police investigations center and at the central prison, and pointed to improvements in conditions at these facilities in recent years:

"Two journalists have alleged that they were held incommunicado for two weeks in a dark underground cell in Maikelawi police prison in Addis Ababa and beaten¿" (AI 25 Jun 1995).

"A released fellow-prisoner reported that he was detained in Maikelawi police investigation centre in late 1992 and had been tortured¿" (AI 25 Jun 1995).

"Dergue/WPE [Workers¿ Party of Ethiopia] detainees were seen and interviewed by an Amnesty International representative in July 1993 in the Central Prison (in the Alem Bekagne ("End of the World") section) and in Maikelawi police investigation centre. They had not been ill-treated and conditions in these two prisons had been greatly improved. The prison authorities there had clearly tried to meet international standards on the treatment of prisoners¿" (AI 25 Jun 1995).

"Conditions of Dergue/WPE detainees in other prisons, especially in the rural areas, are believed to be worse than in the Central Prison and Maikelawi police investigation centre, and possibly not consistent with the relevant international standards" (AI 25 Jun 1995).

A New York Times report on former Olympic gold medallist Mamo Wolde, who was being held in the Central Prison, highlighted conditions in the prison:

"The Addis Ababa Central Prison, holding about 2,000 prisoners, is at the end of a cracked, paved road, in the heart of the city, with concrete guard towers and corrugated metal roofs. Male and female guards, in olive drab sweaters and jackets representing their military status, sit in the shade holding rifles. Down a dirt path and through another steel door is a section of the prison called Alem Bekagne or "No More the World" -- meaning they would not see the outside world again -- where Wolde and 400 other prisoners are kept" (Ultramarathon World 2000).

A report from the International Labor Organization on an Ethiopian political prisoner provided information on conditions in the Central Prison in Addis Ababa:

"The prison regime in Addis Ababa Central Prison was no picnic. "I have been reading a lot of books about prison. But I tell you, I have never heard of such conditions in any prison, and definitely not for political prisoners", Taye Woldesmiate quickly added. "I was shackled for 24 hours a day. Most of the time my hands were chained and sometimes my legs were, whenever they did not want me to move around. I was held in a dark room, then in solitary confinement. This was the situation for most political prisoners" (ILO 29 Oct 2002).

Further information on the treatment of Taye Woldesmiate in Karchale Central Prison is provided in reports from the National Academies, the campaign to free Dr. Woldesmiate, and Human Rights Watch:

"During most of his incarceration Dr. Taye was held under extremely harsh conditions [in Karchale prison in Addis Ababa], which included lengthy solitary confinement, greatly reduced family visits, being handcuffed regularly, and being held in an unsanitary, overcrowded, and poorly ventilated cell with some 200 other prisoners" (National Academies 2002).

"Shortly after arriving to Karchale prison, Taye was handcuffed with a 30-cm (one foot) heavy chain that locked around his two wrists with the help of a padlock. Initially the handcuffs were removed from his hands twice a day for 15 minutes so as to allow him change his clothes during the morning and night" (¿Free Taye¿ website, no date).

"Dr. Taye Woldesemayat was subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in Addis Ababa central prison where he was transferred after his arrest and remained. The presiding judge denied bail, and when the teachers¿ leader repeatedly complained that he was being harassed by his guards, the judge failed to act decisively to restrain them. The guards in February placed Woldesemayat in a death-row cell known as the ¿darkness cell.¿ When he again complained about the conditions of his detention in a July 28 hearing, the presiding judge, holding him in contempt, ordered him put in chains for twenty-four hours a day until a hearing scheduled for September 29" (HRW 1999).

A report from a group working on behalf of Ethiopian political prisoners presented information on the Maikelawi investigations center:

"Maikelawi security prison in Addis Ababa¿ is a notorious detention and torture center currently used by the EPRDF [Ethiopian People¿s Revolutionary Democratic Front] government to hold political prisoners, including members of the former government, and also opponents of the current government, some of whom have allegedly been tortured. Conditions in the prison are harsh" (ISCEPC 3-8 Mar 1997).

Amnesty International provided information regarding the general conditions in prisons in Ethiopia:

"There have been numerous reports of torture of political prisoners in Ethiopia in recent years, particularly in certain police stations and security centres in Addis Ababa. Prison conditions are generally harsh, medical treatment is inadequate and complaints of torture are rarely investigated by the authorities" (Network of Concerned Historians 13 Jan 2001).


¿Woyane¿ is a general term used by Tigreans of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front to describe their movement and as a pejorative term by opponents of the TPLF in Ethiopia and Eritrea to refer to the TPLF and the EPRDF government. Patrick Gilkes, a Horn of Africa specialist, discussed the origin and use of the term ¿Woyane¿ in a 1999 report:

"EPRDF grew out of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front, and the TPLF was, in origin, regionally based within a region of largely Tigrean population. It was a specifically Tigrean party, whose original strength lay exactly in its Tigrean ethnicity, its Tigrean nationalism. Part of its original appeal ¿ was to the history of Tigrean struggle against the central Amhara government, looking back to the last Tigrean emperor, Yohannis IV, in the 19th century, and to the "Woyane" revolt of 1943 against Haile Selassie. Indeed, the TPLF picked up and used the name "Woyane"; more recently it has also been used in a slightly derogatory sense, as in "the Woyanes" (Gilkes 1999).

The use of the term ¿Woyane¿ is further explained in an article from the Cairo Times:

"Woyane is the Eritrean nickname for the leading Tigray faction in the Ethiopian government, the Marxist-Leninist league of the Tigray Peoples' Liberation Front (TPLF). Both Ethiopian president Meles Zenawi and Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin are part of this faction" (CAIRO TIMES 30 Nov 2000).

¿Woyane Prison¿ would then appear to be a prison linked to or identified with the TPLF/EPRDF government. Only one reference to ¿Woyane prison¿ has been found. This came from the Oromo Liberation Front website and refers to a prison in Abote town in west Wallaga. In this news update, the term ¿Woyane¿ appears to be used in a generic sense (i.e., linked to the TPLF regime) rather than as the specific name for the prison¿since the same article refers to ¿Woyane security forces,¿ ¿Woyane army,¿ ¿Woyane militia,¿ and ¿Woyane regime¿ (OLF 3 May 2002).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Amnesty International (AI). 25 June 1995. ¿ETHIOPIA: ACCOUNTABILITY PAST AND PRESENT: HUMAN RIGHTS IN TRANSITION." [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

CAIRO TIMES (Egypt). 30 November 2000. ¿Keeping the Peace.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

ETHIOPIAN REPORTER. 2001. ¿Trial by Officialdom.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

¿Free Taye¿ website. No date. ¿Dr. Taye Woldesemayat Fact Sheet.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

Gilkes, Patrick. 1999. ¿ETHIOPIA: PERSPECTIVES OF CONFLICT, 1991-1999," (Swiss Peace Foundation, Institute for Conflict Resolution). [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 1999. WORLD REPORT 1999, ¿Ethiopia.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

International Labor Organization (ILO). 29 October 2002. ¿They knew I would rather die than give up the fight¿ (Interview with Taye Goldesmiate, Ethiopia). [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

International Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Prisoners of Conscience (ISCEPC). 3-8 March 1997. ¿Unraveling Human Rights Abuses in Ethiopia: Ways and Means of Alleviating the Problem.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

National Academies, Committee on Human Rights. 2002. ¿Ethiopian Political Scientist Taye Woldesemayat Released from Prison.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

Network of Concerned Historians. 13 January 2001. ¿Appeal for Oromo History Student, Ethiopia, 13 January 2001¿Amnesty International Urgent Action Appeal.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

Oromia Support Group (OSG). February-April 1998. ¿Summary Press Release: Oromo prisoners of conscience transferred to underground cells.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). 3 May 2002. ¿News Update.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

Trueman, Dr. Trevor, Chair - Oromia Support Group. 29 May 1998. ¿Human Rights Violations in Ethiopia.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

University of Minnesota, Human Rights Library. 1999. ¿Z.T. (name withheld) v. Norway, Committee against Torture, Communication No. 127/1999.¿ [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

Ultramarathon World, 2000. 24 March 2999. ¿New York Times: 1999 Report on Mamo Wolde¿¿Once a Gold Medalist Now a Prisoner.¿¿ (24 March 1999). By Jere Van Dyk. [Internet] URL: (Accessed 26 November 2002).

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