Ethiopian Politician Arrested for Torturing Prisoners with Lions and Tigers

AP Photo
AP Photo/Reem Saad

Ethiopian police arrested a politician on Monday on suspicion of multiple human rights violations, which included using lions and tigers to torture political prisoners.

Abdi Mohammed Omar, the former leader of Ethiopia’s Somali region, otherwise known as Abdi Illey, was seen on television being led out of his villa in Addis Ababa Monday and taken into police custody. Police later found five Kalashnikov assault weapons and four pistols in his house.

According to Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC), Abdi was “arrested for allegedly being behind the human rights violations as well as the ethnic and religious clashes that have happened in the Ethiopian Somali region,” after the country’s attorney general began examining possible charges.

Abdi resigned as the Somali region’s leader in August after 15 years in charge after national troops were sent into the region amid reports that a para-police force was rampaging through villages in a spate of attacks against opposition that left 41 people dead and 20 others wounded. There were also reports of torture and rape.

Over the weekend, Ethiopia’s new reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed revealed that Abdi had used extreme methods of torture, which included the use of “hyenas, lions, and tigers.”

“What happened in the Somali region compares to a scene out of a movie or a fiction book,” he told reporters. “As such, prisoners were held inside prison cells along with animals like hyenas, lions, and tigers for intimidation purposes. People were raped, looting was rampant and people were killed. What happened there was shameful.”

Human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch, which previously accused Abdil of running a secret jail, welcomed the arrest.

“Hopefully, today’s arrest of Abdi Illey is a start to justice for victims of serious crimes in Ethiopia’s Somali region,” said Maria Burnett, the associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Africa division

“Other officials, who directed and supported abuses, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, should also be held to account,” she continued. “The federal authorities should ensure that prosecutions are transparent, rigorous and fair and that victims and witnesses can testify without fear of reprisals.”

Ethiopia’s Somali region has been plagued by unrest for the past three decades, with government forces fighting against the secessionist Ogaden National Liberation Front before the group announced a unilateral ceasefire this month in response to autonomy reforms. However, ethnic and religious tensions remain fierce, with regular outbreaks of violence between civilians and local authorities.

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