Monday, December 11
Kaliti On a Sunday Afternoon
Today is Monday, which means that yesterday Kaliti’s political prisoners were permitted the fleeting opportunity to visit with family members and friends.
Early on Sunday afternoon the visitors gathered beneath the sniper towers and formidable prison archway, waiting to glimpse their loved ones and relay cryptic messages of hope, news and inspiration. Beginning at 3pm, the guards inspected the visitor ID cards, while those inside the compound meticulously recorded the name and residence of the visitor next to the name of the prisoner they wished to visit; “CUD-supporters” were additionally registered on a separate list (to “harass at a future date”, one assumes, should civilian targets ever become in short supply.) Ferenji visitors have now been completely prohibited from visiting Kaliti, as I discovered yesterday—information the guards conveniently neglect to share until after the registration process is completed and we have been duly noted as “persons in support of the opposition”.
Those still allowed beyond this point then removed their shoes and subjected themselves to an invasive physical inspection intended to prevent the entrance of “anything and everything”—gifts, food, electronics, paper. For the immediate family members granted special permission to deliver food and personal items, the procedure was even more grueling: the list of prohibitions is extensive—subject to the whims and temperament of the guard on that particular day—and most often quite ridiculous, with the most recent additions being black clothing (representative of a state of mourning and therefore favored by prisoners during court appearances) berberi and tea bags; food is also subsequently searched (using the same dirty fork for each person and dish!) and family members made to eat a portion of the food themselves in front of the guards.
Finally—nearly half an hour into the allotted period—yesterday’s visitors were able to proceed to the designated visiting area—a hot, muddy room of corrugated iron and concrete apparently frequented by as many wild mice as people. Here, the prisoners were already divided into 3 zones of 30-35 people each, and detained behind the waist-high wooden railing, restricted to the physical contact of a simple handshake. As usual, approximately two guards were assigned per prisoner to “monitor conversation” (though Dr. Berhanu is usually awarded no less than 6 personal guards!) –and the “impossible subjects” remained as obvious as they are numerous. (All conversations must be conducted exclusively in Amharic, Oromenia, Tigrinya or English; I have heard that they once even detained an American visitor for hours because he “insisted on speaking a local language”!) Despite the best efforts of the EPRDF, Kinijit spirit was in abundance here as usual—evidenced through the whispered encouragement of an otherwise stern-looking guard, or the ‘unspoken permission granted to certain topics of discussion.
Then at 3:50 pm sharp (after a mere 20-30 minutes of visitation) the head guard gave the ’10-minute warning’ and all were required to hastily say their goodbyes and exit the compound.
Though the thousands of convicted felons housed in Kaliti receive visitors for 5 hours each day on weekends (from 9-12 and 1-3), these political hostages—imprisoned solely for their unwavering commitment to human rights and democratic practice—are granted only this strictly-regulated visitation “hour” once each day on the weekends.
As today is Monday, they have since long been returned to the inhumane conditions of their captivity, forced to suffer in seclusion for yet another week.