Guantanamo (By Asrat Abrha)

It was on a Saturday [mid-May] that a friend and I planned to visit our colleagues in Burayu jail. Burayu is a small town 23 kilometers west of Addis Ababa. Our colleagues were in Burayu to organize an upcoming peaceful demonstration when they were arrested and thrown in jail. The first problem with our plan? We both did not know which way our destination lay. We inquired of a mop vendor who disinterestedly suggested it could be somewhere past Department of Motor Vehicles. Burayu could not have been in that direction as I was certain I knew towns on that route. [He was probably thinking we asked him which road he took to get home!] We inquired of a cab driver. The cab driver advised we take connecting cabs to the Grand Bus Terminal to Asco Shoe Factory and finally to Burayu. We did as he advised and got off when we saw Burayo Police Station. We approached the station eager to see how our colleagues were doing but the officers on duty would no let us. So we went into a restaurant and purchased for them meals for delivery and were soon on our way back when my friend received the news that our colleagues would be released sometime that afternoon. We therefore got off the cab and walked back toward the police station.

We went into a restaurant to eat and wait. As we were eating a call came on my cellphone; I got up and walked outside to talk, away from the blaring television. Next thing a policeman was shouting at me to follow him to the station. I asked him why he was telling me to follow him to the station. He fired back it was no business of mine to ask and insisted I followed him. I requested to see his ID; he went ballistic. Other officers showed up and I was led to the station office. The station commander was one TesfaSelassie Negera. He picked up the phone and started conversing with someone at the other end: “Sir, we just apprehended a Asrat Abraham trying to forcefully break-in to get prisoners out,” I heard him say. I could not believe what I was hearing. I gave him a look of “Are you talking about me?” He hang up the phone and ordered the officer who got me into this to give me the “treatment.” Next thing I know the officer had jumped to his feet and was pounding me with slaps and kicks. On reflection, I am glad the “treatment” was limited to slaps and kicks; it could have been a shoot-to-kill order. Was it not the poet Aragau who said, Don’t be deceived; the uniformed mercenary only knows to kill and does not ask why?

The station commander went on a tirade. “Do you think it matters much if you were shot dead right this moment?!” and went on chewing me up; everything he said had to do with a bullet and liquidation. Considering his age he sounded more like an officer from the Derg era. I countered, “Sir, If I have committed a crime you are to arrest and bring me before a court of law; but you cannot have me beat up or verbally abuse me like you did.” Another outburst and more threats that this was only the beginning of what he was capable of doing to me.

They took me in a car and drove away. My right eye was so swollen from the beating that I expected to be taken to a hospital. Upon second thought I sensed such individuals don’t have the faculty to reason with or to show compassion. My guess was they were taking me back to Addis Ababa to throw me in jail. The vehicle suddenly came to a stop, at what appeared to be a private residence, and I was told to get off and proceed through the gates. I sure knew citizens are routinely jailed in this country on flimsy charges. But I never suspected I would be taken from a police station to an unidentified and secret location. It was then I was truly terrified. I did not expect to come out alive.

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