Ethiopia shows eight terror detainees on TV
Published Wednesday, April 11, 2007 12:13PM EDT
NAIROBI, Kenya - Ethiopia, facing criticism over its detention of foreign terror suspects, showed eight detainees on state-run television, with one prisoner saying the captors were "like our friends" and were treating them well.
The broadcast late Tuesday came hours after the government confirmed an Associated Press report that Ethiopia had detained dozens of foreign suspects as part of an effort to fight terrorism. Ethiopian initially denied any suspects were in custody, but U.S. officials said they had questioned some detainees.
Human rights groups say the detentions violate international law, which Ethiopia denies.
In Ethiopian News Agency's report, eight detainees said they had been treated humanely and that their basic needs were met.
"I do appreciate everything," said Muhibitabo Clement Ibrahim, a Rwandan. "The treatment here is very good. Ethiopians are very sociable and they respect human rights."
Munir Awad, a Swedish citizen of Lebanese descent, said: "They treat us very well, they are like our friends."
The report said Syrian detainee Osama Abdulaziz Al Nasib "thanked the Ethiopian government for the good treatment, shelter, clothing, food and medical treatment since he was transferred to the Ethiopian forces after he was apprehended in Somalia-Kenyan border."
The news agency also provided a photo of the men, including 24-year-old American Amir Mohammed Meshal, smiling with their arms around each other. They were not in prison uniforms. The location and date of the photo were not given.
The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa said this week it would have no comment on the detentions.
Some of the detainees were swept up by Ethiopian troops that drove a radical Islamist government out of neighboring Somalia late last year. Others have been deported from Kenya, where many Somalis have fled the continuing violence in their homeland.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, the guardian of the Geneva Conventions that protect victims of war, has tried unsuccessfully to meet with the detainees.
"We have requested to have access, but we still don't have it," ICRC spokesman Patrick Megevand said Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The ICRC said showing prisoners of war on television or otherwise exposing them to public curiosity violated the Geneva Conventions. There has been no official determination about whether the detainees are POWs.
Ethiopia has a long history of human rights abuses. In recent years, it has been a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida, which has been trying to sink roots in the Horn of Africa.
On Tuesday, Ethiopia said foreign interrogators were allowed to question the suspects with Ethiopian supervision. It did not identify the nations involved.
"All the suspected terrorists, who said that they were allowed to appear before the court, thanked the Ethiopian government and concerned bodies for their good treatment," the state-run news agency said.
The Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Ministry said 29 of the 41 suspects have been ordered released by the Ethiopian government, and that five already have been freed. The ministry said only 12 foreign detainees would remain in custody after the next round of releases.
It was not clear from Tuesday's report if the eight men interviewed would be freed.
Human Rights Watch, which has accused the Ethiopian government of running a secret detention program, said they believed Ethiopia was holding more suspects than it says and condemned the decision to show the detainees on TV.
"Ethiopia's donors like the European Union and United States should be very concerned about the fact that Ethiopia is putting these people on TV before they have had access to independent monitors like the Red Cross, or lawyers or even due process," said Tom Porteous, the Britain-based director of the rights group.