The Kilinto Prison houses high-profile political prisoners detained amid a wave of deadly anti-government protests

By Salem Solomon & Tsion Girma (VOA News) |

Relatives of people detained in Ethiopia’s Kilinto Prison are desperately seeking news of their loved ones after the high-security penitentiary caught fire Saturday.

Mohamed Seid, public and media relations director at the Government Communications Affairs Office, told VOA’s Horn of Africa service that 23 prisoners had died in the blaze.

The prison houses high-profile political prisoners detained amid a wave of deadly anti-government protests, including the former spokesman of the opposition Semayawi (Blue) party, Yonatan Tesfaye, and leaders of the Oromo Federalist Congress party (OFC), deputy chairman Bekele Gerba and deputy secretary-general Dejene Tafa. All three men were arrested in December.

ALSO READ Ethiopia: Fire at Addis Ababa’s Kilinto Prison Kills 23 People

Aselefech Mulatu, Tafa’s wife, told VOA Amharic she didn’t know about the fire until she arrived for regular visitation time.

“We heard gunshots and the police came and stopped us saying we can’t pass because there’s been fire,” she said. “We retreated to the back and some people who went ahead of us said they could hear screams.”

She said that only ambulances and fire trucks were allowed through and family members were not permitted to visit Sunday.


Tafa is a former member of the Ethiopian parliament and a lawyer who represented protesters arrested in Ambo in the Oromia region of central Ethiopia in 2014, when protests first began over a disputed development plan to expand the capital city.

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