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Ethiopia: Concerns raised for safety of two teachers held without charge at risk of torture

Amnesty International has urged thousands of its members around the world to appeal to Ethiopian authorities to either bring charges against two teachers who have been arrested or to release them immediately.

Wasihun Melese and Anteneh Getnet, both members of the teachers' trade union, the Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA), were arrested in the capital, Addis Ababa, on 23 September. They are being held incommunicado without charge and are at risk of torture, ill-treatment, or "disappearance".

Police arrested teacher Wasihun Melese at his home and then took him to the police Central Investigation Bureau (known as Maekelawi), where he is still detained. He is a teacher at Addis Ketema High School in Addis Ababa and a prominent activist in the Addis Ababa branch of the ETA. He is an elected member of the ETA's National Executive Committee.

Shortly after Wasihun’s arrest, three men in plain clothes reportedly entered the ETA's office in Addis Ababa and were later seen leaving in a car with Anteneh Getnet, a teacher and ETA activist who had been in the organisation's office. Anteneh Getnet had been attending an Addis Ababa Region teachers' meeting. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Anteneh Getnet has previously been abducted and beaten in May 2006, allegedly by members of the security forces. He is still suffering from injuries sustained when he was beaten.

Amnesty International is concerned that these new arrests may be a response by the Ethiopian authorities to a complaint lodged by the ETA and the global union federation Education International with the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association, citing government interference with ETA activities and intimidation of ETA members, including the arrest of numerous teachers since May 2005.

Amnesty International is concerned that Washiun Melese and Anteneh Getnet may be prisoners of conscience arrested on account of their non-violent trade union activities and is urging the authorities to disclose the location where Anteneh Getnet is held and to either bring charges against the two teachers or to release them immediately without charge.

Background Information

The ETA, which is affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and Education International, is the oldest trade union in Ethiopia, to which half a million teachers in primary, secondary and higher educational institutions belong. The ETA has been critical of government education policies and has been subject to numerous government attempts to close it. There have been attempts by the Ethiopian authorities to replace it with a pro-government union created with the same name. The ETA issued statements criticizing the government in connection with the post-election crisis in mid-2005. In two incidents in June and November 2005, over 80 opposition party supporters were killed by the security forces, and seven police officers were also killed by demonstrators protesting at alleged election fraud in the May 2005 elections. There were mass arrests of opposition members and many are reportedly still detained without charge.

Hundreds of teachers and ETA members in different regions have been detained or arbitrarily dismissed in recent years, reportedly because they failed to support the ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

Kassahun Kebede, an ETA official arrested in November 2005 in connection with the demonstration, is now on trial alongside the leaders of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), several journalists and human rights defenders. He faces serious charges including 'outrage against the Constitution' and could be punished with the death penalty. He is a teacher and the chair of the Addis Ababa branch of the ETA. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience and has called for his immediate and unconditional release

Read a copy of the report Ethiopia: Prisoners of conscience on trial for treason: opposition party leaders, human rights defenders and journalists

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