Police hold children in 'dire' conditions in Ethiopia's Oromiya: rights commission

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said on Thursday that police from the Oromiya region are holding a large number of detainees, including babies and children, without charge, in "unhygienic and overcrowded" police stations across the region.

The state-appointed commission said children aged between 5 months and 10 years were being held along with their mothers, and that children as young as 9 were suspected of offenses and held with adult prisoners.

Detainees in the region, which is in central Ethiopia and like other regions has some autonomy from the central government in running matters such as law enforcement and education, are held in "dire conditions" with no access to water, medical care or sanitation and with limited food, the report said.

Oromiya's Police Commissioner Ararsa Merdasa told Reuters he had not read the report but would comment after he had done so. Getachew Balcha, a spokesman for the regional government, did not immediately answer phone calls seeking comment.

The report said the commission visited 21 police stations across the region between November and January, documenting "grave violations of human rights" including beatings.

"The detention centers house a large number of people who had been arrested without court orders," it said, without giving any numbers.

The commission report said that it received testimonies that parents had been arrested to pressurise their children or wives had been arrested to force their husbands to come forward.

The report also documented arbitrary and prolonged detentions of suspects whose charges had been dropped, or who had been ordered released by a court. Many had not appeared before a court in the 48 hours of detention stipulated by Ethiopian law, the report said.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has carried out a number of political reforms, including appointing a former political prisoner to head the rights commission in 2019, a move seen as giving the body more power to tackle rights abuses.

Many of those detained in Oromiya were arrested in the aftermath of the killing of political singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, member of the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, who was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Addis Ababa last June.

His death violent sparked protests in the capital and across Oromiya, killing at least 178.

Haacaaluu's songs were a soundtrack to a generation of Oromo protesters whose three years of anti-government demonstrations finally forced the resignation of the then-prime minister in 2018.

(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Maggie Fick and Frances Kerry)

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