Forget Abuse, Birtukan Was Tortured

When nauseating details of Birtukan Mideksa’s mistreatment in prison get a day’s light, it is not just one’s convictions about the brutality of Ethiopia’s ruling regime that will be tested; they also pose a test to our verbal power – our ability to summon a word or a term to name them. Were I hazard one, it is Verschärfte Vernehmung, a phrase that pre-war German officials concocted to describe the techniques of what one victim called “silent torture”.

A day after her release, I gave Birtukan a call. Our conversation was short. “I do not want to talk about prison now,” she replied to one particularly insensitive question about prison conditions. In interviews to the media, her considered and consistently repeated statement was: “prison was difficult.” But from the chatter of her close friends, I had learned that there was a lot more detail to that statement. After hours of probing and prodding people who knew, this is the most chilling way that I can state what I found out.

-While in solitary confinement, Birtukan suffered from a medical problem which was not life threatening, but as sufferers would testify, was excruciatingly painful and needed immediate treatment to alleviate the pain. For months, they denied her medical help, leaving her alone in a dark 2×2.

-When she got treatment after months of pain, her health condition deteriorated even further. She suffered from a more serious problem. Again, they denied her of medical treatment for the new problem until it advanced to such a stage that they feared it might end up as a repeat of the Professor Asrat Saga; this time the victim would be a much younger and healthier female politician.

-The new medical treatment caused another health complication for which as in the previous cases she only got treatment after a lot of suffering.

-In this period, Birtukan was either in a solitary confinement or with prisoners who had serious mental problems.

-Withholding medical help was accompanied by constant physical abuse.

This, to borrow from Christopher Hitchens, is just “the rehearsal for one’s revulsion.” I do not want to insult your humanity – dear reader – by asking you to imagine yourself in her place or pause to think of what each of the above means. However, I have to tell you that the full details were much, much worse. If the best case in this context were to be made by putting forward each stomach churning fact, this article has not got to 20% of the way.

In pre-war Germany, officials were constantly embarrassed by prisoners who showed the marks of torture when they appeared in court. Silent forms of torture that left no traces were invented to avoid that. In Birtukan’s case, Verschärfte Vernehmung was applied because she was an internationally recognized political prisoner. That she would be released from prison despite Meles Zenawi’s insistence that it was a dead case was a given. The regime made sure that Birtukan experienced both the physical and mental effects of torture without leaving the marks to prove it. Yet as a Norwegian court said of Verschärfte Vernehmung, “torture is torture.”

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66 Responses to “Forget Abuse, Birtukan Was Tortured”

  1. Yes, her treatment at prison shall be considered as a torture. For this evil act, Meles should pay the political price. We should push on demanding the freedom of all political prisoners.

  2. Ato Abiye,

    If i were you I would call wzt.Birtukan again and again till I find out what happened to her in prison. But since you know nothing, let alone torture, happened to her, you come up with two words “Verschärfte Vernehmung”… dramatize your motive in convincing people she signed the pardon request letter because of the “torture”. Even with her medical conditions,why dont you read the interview she gave to Awramba times that she got the treatment right away and didnt even needed a referal.

    When you call her next time, would you please ask her what took her two years to realize the inevitable?

    Ato Abiye, years of herd and entourage mentality are over. Challenge us with facts not with fancy quotations.


    • alebachew,

      I am wondering why you ask Abiye to challenge you with the facts. To any fair-minded person the facts are absolutely clear. Understandably, you and many other woyane supporters will never accept such facts. No matter you and others try to cover up, you cannot succeed in altering facts.
      I know you will even deny the following facts:

      -It is a fact that Birtukan was put in a solitary confinement for several months; even the psychopath Meles did not refute this fact.

      -It is a fact that no one was allowed to visit her regularly except her mother and child;

      -It is a fact that most of the words and phrases in the pardon application letter are exact replicates of Meles’s speeches and press conferences

    • Dear Alebachew,

      Don’t you have a sister?

      Show at least a little bit of sympathy for this poor woman. Forget the political situations, but at least treat her as a human-being. She has suffered a lot! That is enough. She doesn’t need to be ridiculed by people like you who sat on your comfy sofas and flick channels. We all need to stop being an ignorant and grow up. let’s put our feet on her shoes – what would you have done differently?


    • R U serious?

  3. Machine translation failed. retry

  4. Ato Abiye,

    If i were you I would call wzt.Birtukan again and again till I find out what happened to her in prison. But since you know nothing, let alone torture, happened to her, you come up with two words “Verschärfte Vernehmung”… dramatize your motive in convincing people she signed the pardon request letter because of the “torture”. Even with her medical conditions,why dont you read the interview she gave to Awramba times that she got the treatment right away and didnt even needed a referal.

    When you call her next time, would you please ask her what took her two years to realize the inevitable?

    Ato Abiye, years of herd and entourage mentality are over. Challenge us with facts not with fancy quotations.



  5. Dear Abiye,

    We always think that we’ve seen the rockbottom of the sorry TPLF regime and its strongman Meles, and then we are exposed to yet another deeper, dirtier low. I cannot sufficiently express my disgust and revulsion with this man and his clique. He knew that he can’t afford her to be coming out with visible signs of torture, so he resorted to the rich textbook of the most heinous regimes. to see how he can get the very same effect of pulling out nails or drilling into stomachs, only without the conventional telltale signs of torture when she steps in front of the camera.

    Furthermore, there is also no way I can imagine that a healthy 34 year old woman going into prison would find herself in these kinds of excruciatingly painful conditions if they didn’t lace her food with the requisite chemicals to evoke the pain.

    I am committed more than ever to do everything that’s in my power to help the pro-democracy anti-Meles movement get rid of this parasite which has been feasting on the blood of Birtukan, all Ethiopian people, and on the western powers’ money and guns. I have been a sympathizer of the activist movement’s causes without really doing much myself except occasionally donating a little money. This will change starting today, and the movement can count on me being a fully active part of it.

  6. yes, As Alebachew said it, don’t try to justify her request for pardon through those tricky German Words.

    Abiy, you are just trying to impose what you think is true. or simply giving a reason for something unexpected incident.

    The truth is Birtukan lately learnt that the way she choose to fight this regime is not the best way. Then she realized that she cannot resist it through imprisonment. She missed her beloved child. she missed nice cafes in Bole, she missed the real world and decided to sign the humiliating charter. That is it. Don’t dramatize things.
    hahaha teneqaqan?

    • Heny,

      I can’t believe how you guys try to see it from a very simplistic perspective. Implying the reasons that she asked pardon was because “she missed nice cafes in Bole” is the most absurd argument I’ve ever heard. I’m sorry but you must be kidding.

      This woman was in jail. In Ethiopian jail. In the worst jails this universe has ever seen. And yet, you argue that she asked pardon because she wants to hang out at Bole street Cafe’s. This kind of thinking really sickens me.

      Heny, please either go to church and confess or see a doctor. It is not a laughing matter to put lols and hahahas in this serious talks of our contemporary history.

      Thanks Heny for taking your time and reading my friendly recommendation.


  7. Dear ABiye,

    Is it necessary to disclouse this kind of things while Birtukan is still in Ethiopia? Do not you think it will rescue her life?

  8. the whole country is a big prison. what ‘d a prison within a prison look like? Better leave that to the imagination.

  9. I am really surprised by the pathetic nature of Ethiopias. Both the opposition and the supporters of Ethiopia. For the supporters , they know that Birtukan was imprisoned becuase she is an Ethiopian that was really concerned by the direction of the country under the Meles dictatorship regime. And now under a high pressure and personal humiliation to their “king” (remember what happened to him at colombia university)he was forced to release her under a face cover of “asking pardon”. however the supporters of meles are trying to tell us that she said “pardon me …” . Well the best way for her to outsmart meles and co . is to leave that prison and join the real opposition forces and bring change to Ethiopia.

    As for the oppostion group they are starting to say that why in the first place did she go into prison if she would say “pardon me , meles …”. Well this group is also wrong. Let me challenge u, what did u “supporters” of Birtukan do to force the goverment release her? did u at least remember her once a day thinking that she was fighting for your freedom?

    she tried her best. and no politician at least in the current oppostion parties did what she did for truth .

    For me I dont care whether or not she said pardon me meles … , what matters is what she is going to do next .One thing I hope she has alrady understood is that in real struggle for freedom the main reason for victory is not the concept of “the people of ethiopia” rather the concept of a strong political partiy which only relays on smartly recurited members.

  10. There are evidences that Meles who was so irritated by her popularity personally directed his loyals among the security establishement to handle the systematic torture of Birtukan. You remember his response to the health condition of Birtukan: ” other than gaining some weight she is doing fine”. well there is a good saying in Amharic ‘le hulum gizie alew’. It won’t be that long before we see Meles, a cruel criminal brought to Justice.

  11. Ato Alebachew,

    If I were you I would examine the words of the so called Birtukan’s pardon letter to search for the facts. You do not need Abiy’s ‘challenge’. May be you are among the inner circle who made sure nothing to come out of Birtukan’s mouth using the so called shimgilina.

    You dare to blame others for conforming to the norm while you urself are immersed in the current Dear Leader’s style cult mindset. No one will challenge you man! But your and your consience only.If you do not have one pls do not try to pretend as if you respect civilised discussion. You can not do this bc of the mere fact that you put yourself in a circle which does not have the courage to respect individual differnces.

    In the past 18 years we have witnessed many who act like ‘ ke papaw belay catholic’.


  12. Alebachew & Heny;

    Please recognize when to stay low and when to give your service for your master (meles.When you invoke Birtukan’s satement on ETV as a pardon, trust me you don’t even convince yourself. We all know what a free Birtuka will say/ do and don’t say/do.

  13. @alebachew & Heny; for whom you are telling those non sense things? We Ethiopians know each & every cruel this government can do. Meles together with his civil and military gangsters did a lot of nasty and ruthless things for most of influential political prisoners. So, please if you are trying to tell for the people of Ethiopia, just forget it!!! Each and every Ethiopian knew the brutality of this government; of course I agree with Neutral: “It is necessary to disclose this kind of things while Birtukan is still in Ethiopia” Do you know Why? Let someone answer it,

  14. Alebachew and heny, go and tell such a non sense things to your blood trusty boss who has been drinking millions of ethiopians’ blood. Your Boss , meles has killed mercilessly even his comrades who brought untill menilik palace like ayalom aray and others. So if he showed his cruelity by killing his comrades to secure his power, immagine what he could do with Birtukan?

  15. Ato Alebachew & Henry, Which part of your body involved when you write your comments? It sound like your stomac is doing the writing not your brain!!! In Diaspora we call you Hoddam!! please use your God given brain at least at this time,,,,

  16. Assuming what Birtukan has said to Awramba Times has some truth on it, let’s take in particular what she has said about (1) the starting date of the negotiation, Meskerem 1 (September 11) and her actual appeal letter date, Meskerem 5 (September 15). This practically means she accepted the letter with its current form in 5 days. (2)the case that she was either in solitary confinement or was with two other prisoners with ETV as her only access to information. (3?)her statement that she had thought that the public was not aware of her release.

    Here is my theory or explanation. It is a theory of NO Information. At the start of the negotiation, she had no information about her then (or current) public status as a symbol of ‘a true freedom fighter’ and recognition by Amnesty and Human Rights as prisoner of conscious or political prisoner. She might have even felt that she had been forgotten. She was feeling more towards her personal cases like her old mother and her baby girl than her symbolism of ‘Mandela’ (that she had no idea ) and a leader of a party and the people. Hence, she felt a relief with the start of the negotiation and she accepted the letter with its ‘devilish’ nature almost immediately. My explanation for the nature of the letter is, as it was the beginning of the negotiation, the government might had thought that she would modify it (as part of a negotiation) which apparently had not happened from Birtukan’s end. Obviously, as can be deduced from my above account, I am sympathizer of neither the government nor the opposition. Feel free to comment.

    • If you had done five minutes of googling, you would have learned that the last negotiation was the third, not the first, of its kind. For such a confident person, you are astoundingly lazy.

      • Thanks for your reply Abiye. I have done my 5 minutes of googling and I admit Sep. 11 was not the start of the negotiation. However, it can still be argued that lack of information had contributed to her release through that ‘form’ of letter; of course, this time with a lesser confidence level.

  17. You son of dog Alebachewu, Burtukan is a winner. Not only once, multiple times. Check this out.

  18. Alebachew & Heny
    What Meles’ vomit, you lick. What kind of pathetic as* kissers are you?

  19. To the Alebachew’s and Heny’s

    Truly I feel for you seeing that you have lost every bit of humanity and decency. You also are a vicitm to the System imposed by this Prim Misery of Ethiopia. You. yourself are a casultiy to his crulelity your fear and the need to survive by groveling and forgetting the small basic instincts of humanity, just so that you may please your master shows how much you are willingly allowing yourselves to be abused. That is why you do not comprehend or have the compassion to understand the integrity and strong will that our dear sister Birtukane stood for all this time in confinment/prison.

    Once again I truly feel sorry for your types who have lost their souls to a devil called Meles who sees you all as less than a rat.

    Signing a stupid letter under duress is no shame, the shame is on the person who drafted it and was so low down that he needed to advertize it to feel that he was a man of power. Boy the joke is truly on Melese. Even his friends in the West have a contempte to an insect like that.

    Go deep into yourselves and find a bit of humanity you may heal yourselves otherwise you will be doomed with him sooner than later.

  20. Calm down guys!! I just asked Ato Abiye to show me the fact..he admitted he didnt hear anything form wzt.Birtukan.

    Atleast Aynu tried some but exposing his confusion unfortunately.Guys,you dont even understand what is written in the first place. What you all know is saying woyanne, meles,tplf…..Good Lord!!

    With the way you are guys, I can assure you woyanne is gonna be there for decades to come.


  21. @Ato Berhanu,

    I tried twice to post my reponse but it didnt happen for reasons i dont know.

    See you next time.

    Best regards,

  22. Poor Ethiopians! Fighting for nothing.

  23. In solitary confinement with physical pain, my imaginations could not go beyond hours adding to the thought that this could be for endless time and for the sake of others and for a reality that is still a dream requires a will and faith. BirtuKan endured that for the sake of us to be able to live in the beautiful Ethiopia that she always dreams of. The view of some, which I really can’t understand, that she made the wrong decision initially and now started missing her life and family is so irrational. For anyone who has a brain and not necessary have to be sensible; whether they are political affiliated or not, whether they are pro Meles Zenawi and his regime, whether they are opponents should obviously see that BirtuKan’s initial decision required an enormous and unimaginable bravery to make because that was an open ended situation where she did not know what was awaiting her but she knew she would miss her family ,abandoning them for the betterment of others ,she knew what is await her in Kality won’t be easy – could even cost her her-life and she knew some might object her decision but she still thought they worth her everything. And for me that is powerful Love, honor and will.
    In the interview of Meles in March where he was asked about BirtuKan one can clearly see the intimidation he felt when her name is mentioned. The “flawless” speech starts contradicting and backfiring at him. He speaks the word disappear with such a passion as not as it literal meaning but as if it is a process of vanishing and appearing as something else that I believe is what he wants to anyone who opposes the regime peacefully. He wants BirtuKan to disappear or reappear as something else, the BirtuKan spirit to vanish and hopelessness to merge. And the best way to do this is to destroy the Will in BirtuKan’s mind and watch it vanish and reappear as a weakness by putting her in solitary confinement where she would be engaged with ideas and contemplations that keep on giving birth to new once yet unresolved and an answered and in the dark .To add to the trauma she was left with psychopaths to completely obliterate what she believes is true.
    The timing is perfect and the decision is appropriate because of so many reasons
    1. The sacrifice has already been made.
    2. The BirtuKan spirit has to be revived and restored(which already seem to be well climaxed)
    3. There is definitely NO ONE that the people trust and there is no way Ethiopians loser her
    So BirtuKan you just bit them with their own game a pardon letter which you were not even able to repeat/mention one word in your interview is surely an orchestrated one which does not even require a second thought to figure out. Great Job

  24. How can we be sure that these TPLF mercenaries haven’t threatened to throw her back to solitary confinement; prevent her food water & medication, threatened to torture her; inject her with polio; put her in a place where she will never be heard from again, a la Debteraw and countless others?

  25. Abiy, how about we give her time as per her request? why can’t we hold back with these premature speculations about her prison time, which might actually jeopardize her safety? why can’t you respect her request? you think you are helping her in any way? because your not. whatever happened to the journalistic ethics you AN guys brag about!

  26. Now she is released from prison. She has persevered and out again to speak of it. I believe this is a blessing in disguise. The world will know Zenawi body and soul, his insanity, his rotting soul, and what a monster is dancing over the head of the Ethiopian people. I wish Birtukan make a full medical examination before it is too late for the record. I advise her to be cautious and watchful, as it is not unlikely that Meles still wishes her a harm.

  27. Thanks a lot Abey for your very revealing article.
    it is too cruel and sadistic to do such harm to one innocent lady.

    we need to show our full support to Bertukan in what ever possible way we can .

  28. Abiy,

    This is not really a timely article considering the level of psychological harm Birtukan suffered. You know it well that you fled than toil in that dungeon. I recommend you to give her hiatus. Let us celebrate her release and her sacrifices.
    Thank you.

  29. Despite the serious efforts of the woyane ‘bourgeosie’ to break the popular struggle for freedom from ethnicized oppression, deprivation of the mass, plundering and corruption, the people’s resistance shall presevere. The corrupt woyane gentry is now regaling with conceit feeling secure that it managed to garb all the seats in parliament and appointed its lackeys in all regional governments. It now thought a good time to free Birtukan from jail after forcing her to sign a letter of apology. Birtukan, brave and fearless as she is, has correctly taken the right measure. As the fox was looking for its bait, she was right to give it that. Looking at the big picture, Birtukan has emreged from prison a strong figure, a uniting persona, with a clear voice that would be heard attentively by the Ethiopians of all genre. With her reputation kept intact from the political mud-fight that engulfed the oppostion in the period prior to the 2010 election, Birtukan would be the one leader that can lift the struggle from the sorry state that it happened to be at this moment in time.

  30. I feeel the writer’s desperation…

    In the absense of the truth why she threw the towel, he tries to come up with wild assumptions that she was somehow tortured.
    Dude you are out left on the dark knowing nothing about the whole shiit…

    The fact that only The Ethiopian gov’t and Birtukan herself knows the WHOLE TRUTH is eating you inside out…
    Look at the lady man…chk her booties…she looks very comfortable that you can swing on her love handles.

    Think about it…when the anticipated pressure from the west and the barking of Almariam and Kifle’s failed miserably to have Birtukan released, she has no choice but to take matters onto her hands.

    Stop hyping your own dilusional wishes…
    You dont even know for sure if Birtukan is on your side when she comes out of hybernation.

  31. Derese Getachew 12 October 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Dear Yoni

    You are entitled to have whatever opinion about Birtukan’s handling in prison.

    But you should have the respect to treat her like a sister, a mother or a woman – if not an iconic political leader in the Nation..So coming up with these rude, personal and sexual comments about her figure tell much about your character!!It is cheap…so cheap!!

    It doesnt surprise me though, after all your magnanimous, wise and savvy prime minister Meles was also talking about how ‘she gained weight in prison’- awraw meri endih kalu ke ante ke teketaiachew min yitebekal!!

    Can someone please remove such comments from the board? They dont deserve to be here at all!!

  32. Apparently you seem to be close to the government so why don’t you tell us the truth. And don’t tell me the truth is that she learned the error of her ways. Remember you just wrote that only the Ethiopian government and Birtukan know the whole truth. So the simple question is what is this truth? Not even a ten year old would believe that anybody in their right mind would write such a self accusing and damaging letter. The only way that she will write this letter is if it is presented as a requirement for the so called ‘pardon’. Logically this makes the ‘pardon request letter’ meaningless as it is made under duress. It really puzzles me when supporters of EPRDF argue against such a simple logic. One does even not have to be educated to see the fallacy of the government’s and its supporters’ reasoning in claiming that Birtukan wrote such a ridiculous letter of her own free will. The only logical conclusion, therefore, is that she is forced to write it or to be more exact she was forced to sign on a letter written by someone else. And how do you force a person to do something which is completely and utterly against his or her own interest unless you abuse and torture them? I don’t know of any other way but you (and people who share your opinion) seem to know. Would you please enlighten us?

  33. Sorry my comment above is addressed @yoni

  34. I don’t have many words to say. the only thing I want to say is I am Happy Birtukan left the Brutal Dictator prison Alive.
    And My message to the Fascist meles zenawi;
    it is a matter of time you will pay the price for all killings you did in the past, the crimes against humanity,what you did to Birtukan and other Ethiopian Heroes. The time is soon!I thought you are only a Fascist, But you proved it to world by what you did to Birtukan you are also a Monster!

  35. Derese Getachew

    Words can be rephrased and they wont change the facts…You chose to be over-sensitive of the my words.
    Forget my rudeness as Democracy can tolerate it…but u suggested my msg should be removed exposing your dictatorial behaviours.

    u r correct she is a woman and somehow politician…but not an Icon or Hootchie Liberty u want to label on her…get ur sensitivity off my back dude.


    I never stated i am close to the gov’t nor did i mention that i know what the truth is…Its between the Gov’t and Birtukan herself which the writer here desperately tried to guess…Its like me assuming you are the opposition’s Agafari… :)

    Stating that the truth lies between the gov’t and birtuk does not mean self contradicting…u have an interesting way of understanding opposite views.

    Birtukan did not write the letter…the letter was the same lettr handed to her by the police when she returned from Sweden…she was asked read and to sign to retract her sweden stunt before she was arrested…
    The first requerement to the pardon is to admit your mistakes…not just sign it.
    Logic??? Just because u r comfortable at your own statement and liked what you hyped, it does not mean it is LOGICAL.
    It only made sense to you.

    Finally, given how much the Ethiopian gov’t benefited from her release…

    Save it bro..i would not even be surprised if you guys assume she was raped too.

    What u guys have here is “Erasin Matsnagna”

    • @yoni
      For starters I didn’t know that the letter was drafted by government. Neither did I know that this is public information. Obviously most of the information on the various websites that I rely on to get the info did not tell us this probably with the assumption that it is a well known fact. In any case this for me solves much of the puzzle and confirms the assertion that Birtukan indeed signed the letter under duress. Again the logic is simple although supporters or sympathizers of EPRDF tend to conveniently ignore it. She was presented with a humiliating piece of paper two years ago and she refused to sign it. They threw her to a dungeon, did whatever they wanted to do to break her spirit while at the same time making sure that she is out of the picture for the 2010 elections. When the time is ready they brought her the letter knowing full well that the torture has reached a limit where a mere mortal would not be able to endure it any more. SO MY FRIEND THIS TIME AROUND SHE DID NOT HAVE A CHOICE TO SAY NO. WE HAVE SEEN THAT WHEN SHE HAD THAT CHOICE SHE IN FACT DID SAY NO. You think this is ‘erasin matsnagna’ go ahead. You are entitled to think whatever you please. BTW I almost did not reply to your comment but that would only serve people who by telling lies repeatedly and by being vulgar and arrogant try to silence others. No way dude. Meles tried this tactic for the last twenty years but we are not silenced yet and we will never be unless he throws us all to jail.

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