Security forces in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, have targeted Tigrayans, including children and the elderly, with arbitrary arrests and mass detentions as part of an escalating crackdown.
Amnesty International says most detainees are being held without charge or access to a lawyer.
The arrests have intensified since the government declared a state of emergency 10 days ago as fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) took control of strategic towns in Amhara region some 400 km from Addis Ababa.
Arrests are conducted through house-to-house searches by security forces with support from vigilante groups who check the IDs of people on the street.
Detainees, including civil servants, Orthodox priests and a lawyer are being held in youth centres and other informal detention centres across Addis Ababa because police stations are overflowing.
“These mass arrests have instilled such a climate of fear that Tigrayans that Amnesty International has spoken to are scared they could be rounded up any time.
Those currently locked up have not been charged or brought before a court and many have been targeted purely on the basis of their ethnicity,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“The authorities must ensure that families are informed of the whereabouts and status of all detainees and that anyone deprived of their liberty has access to lawyers and family members without delay.”
Amnesty International has interviewed eight people, families, friends and lawyers of detainees, who have reported seeing hundreds of Tigrayans detained in six different locations. While it is currently impossible to establish the exact number of detainees, they number hundreds and potentially thousands.
A few family members and friends have had limited and irregular access to detainees. However, many have been denied access to a lawyer. Moreover, interviewees told Amnesty International that the police have transferred some of the detainees to places on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.
Two Tigrayan lawyers interviewed by Amnesty International said that they were expecting a knock at the door at any time by security forces, and had their bags packed with a spare set of clothes.