The brutal murder of Assefa Maru by the Woyanne regime in Ethiopia

Ethiopian Human Rights Council
Special Report – May 13, 1997


Ato Assefa Maru was killed on May 8, 1997 at 8:20 a.m. while he was walking from his home in Woreda 12 Kebele 06 to his office. He was killed in Woreda 11 Kebele 10, about a kilo meter away from his home near the office of the former NGO, DAY (now Good Shepherd). Ato Assefa was taking an uphill road that passes along the stone fence of this office. We went to the place and saw that the spot where he was killed has no access for escape.

According to eye witness reports received by EHRCO, Ato Assefa had almost reached the end of the uphill road when a Toyota pick-up driving towards him stopped in front of him, blocking his way. Apart from the driver and the policeman holding a walkie talkie, the vehicle carried six other policemen armed with kalashnikoves and hand grenades round their waist. Ato Assefa tried to pass the pick-up by turning towards the stone fence. At this point an Opel police automobile with a siren which was following Ato Assefa from a close range drove nearer and a policeman at the back seat fired a volley of shots at him with an automatic gun. Ato Assefa died instantly.

Neither the policemen on the pick-up nor those in the Opel automobile ordered Ato Assefa to stop. The police did not fire warning shots into the air nor did they aim their shots towards the victim’s legs as is normally done to constrain someone trying to escape from arrest, but deliberately aimed at his head and chest and shot to kill him right away. When Ato Assefa fell dead, the Opel automobile drove straight ahead without stopping. Then six policemen on the pick-up got off their vehicle and blocked the road in both directions. Some of them searched Ato Assefa’s pockets and also took away his briefcase. Soon a police Land Rover brought four more policemen, dropped them and drove back.

A while later a police vehicle used for carrying corpses came and picked up the victim’s body and drove off via the backstreet of Entoto Comprehensive Secondary School towards the direction of Sidist Kilo. The 10 policemen too climbed their Toyota and followed the car carrying the corpse. Twenty-five minutes after Ato Assefa was killed (at 2:45 a.m.) policemen carrying walkie talkies and armed with automatic guns and hand grenades arrived at Ato Assefa Maru’s house. After explaining that they had a warrant of search they searched the deceased’s house. However, they did not find any fire arms in his house other than tape cassettes, the reports of EHRCO and ETA’s papers which they took away. Twelve other policemen who took control of ETA’s office at the time that the other policemen arrived at Ato Assefa’s house did not have a search warrant.

However, this did not prevent them from detaining on the premise 34 persons, including ETA’s leaders and staff as well as others who had gone there for private business. It was at 6:30 p.m. that the police allowed them to leave after searching their bodies. The police stood guard at the office the whole night. The next day ETA leaders and staff were denied access to their office. At 5:30 a.m., policemen carrying a search warrant issued on May 9, 1997 came and broke the locks of four of the offices. They searched the offices of Dr. Taye Wolde Semayat (ETA’s President), Ato Gemoraw Kassa (ETA’s General Secretary), and ETA Members’ Affairs and Public Relations Offices until 4:30 p.m. and took away ETA’s various documents. The policemen guarding the head office left the premise at 6:00 p.m. on the same day.

At 10:00 a.m. on the day Ato Assefa was killed, an unidentified man phoned EHRCO’s office and said: “Do you know Ato Assefa Maru? Is he your member? And after receiving a “yes” reply, he said that Ato Assefa had died in a car accident and that we could collect his body from Menelik II Hospital. When asked where and when he died, the caller declined to say so, but he added: “Take the body and bury it if you want to.” EHRCO’s staff soon went to the Hospital and saw that Ato Assefa was shot on the head and chest and that the whole of his face and the front left side of his shirt were covered with blood.

At the lunch time news, the government radio reported: The Federal Police Investigation Coordination Department has announced that the members of the anti-peace group which called itself Ethiopian Unity Patriots Front have been taken into custody and that Ato Assefa Maru, who was said to have replaced the Front’s leader and been coordinating its activities, has been shot dead while trying to escape.

The official Amharic daily, Addis Zemen (56th year, no. 201) reported the following in its May 9, 1997 issue: The Federal Police Investigation Coordination Department announced yesterday that the members of the anti-peace group which called itself Ethiopian Unity Patriots Front had been taken into custody and that Ato Assefa Maru, who was said to have replaced the Front’s leader and been coordinating its activities, was shot dead while trying to escape. Earlier, the leaders of the so-called Ethiopian Unity Patriots Front, which had been engaged in anti-people activities, were arrested and their case is pending before the court. Assefa Maru, who had replaced the group’s leader Dr. Taye Wolde Semayat, was discovered while preparing to launch another terrorist act together with his accomplices and was killed while trying to escape from arrest. The Federal Police Investigation Department informed Ethiopian News Service that the police arrested yesterday morning the other members who were in the process of committing terrorist acts in Addis Ababa. The Department disclosed that those arrested with the killed man were Lieutenant Tegenu Jinka, Private Bogale Tessema, Private Tesfaye Getachew, who were all members of the former regime’s army, as well as Solomon Tekle Wold, Yibeltal Simegne, and Mengistu Kibret.

According to testimonies received by EHRCO, the six other people whom the police claimed to have rounded up together with Ato Assefa are reported to be residents of Woreda 11 Kebele 22 and had been detained three weeks ago. Ato Assefa was a resident of Woreda 12 Kebele 06 and his family say that the deceased had no relationship with these six persons.

Ato Assefa was a member of the Executive Committee of ETA. He had also been a member of EHRCO since 1992. On October 6, 1996 he was elected to serve as a member of the Executive Committee of EHRCO. According to EHRCO’s Articles of Association, although a member of a political organization can be admitted to EHRCO, he cannot, however, be admitted if he is a member of a political organization that has a military wing and pursues its objectives through violence. It is only a non-member of a political organization or a member of a political organization that is engaged in a peaceful political struggle that can be admitted to EHRCO. However, although a member of a political organization that pursues a peaceful political struggle can be a member of EHRCO, no one who is a member of a political organization can be elected to serve on the Executive Committee of EHRCO. EHRCO’s rules mandatorily require that no member of a political organization can hold the post of EHRCO’s Executives Committee. When Ato Assefa Maru applied to be a member of EHRCO he had stated in writing that he was not a member of any political organization. At the time of his election to the Executive Committee, Ato Assefa had also told EHRCO’s General Assembly that he was not a member of any political organization. Therefore, EHRCO could not accept the police claim that he was killed because he was found while acting as a leader of the Ethiopian Unity Patriots Front.

Ato Assefa was 37 years old, married and a father of two children. His son is only one year and nine months old while his daughter is just two months old. Ato Assefa was a responsible person who believed in dialogue and peaceful struggle. One cannot believe that a man such as Ato Assefa with heavy family responsibility will join an illegal clandestine organization and put his family’s well being at risk.

Ato Assefa Maru was the kind of person who would obey even a summon by telephone and appear before the law. The Federal Police could have also arrested Ato Assefa either at his home or at his office if they intend to arrest him, or they could have fired at his leg to restrain his movement if at all there was an attempt to escape. He should not have been assassinated in such a carefully organized and coordinated manner. He ought to have been brought before a court of law even if he were found to be a member of an illegal and violent organization.

Dr. Taye Wolde Semayat was charged for allegedly being the leader of an illegal organization called Ethiopian National Patriots Front (ENPF). On the other hand, the organization which Ato Assefa Maru was accused of leading by replacing Dr. Taye Wolde Semayat is reportedly called Ethiopian Unity Patriots Front (EUPF). The two organizations have different names.

What this indicates is the haste of the police to cover up the murder by linking Ato Assefa with the organization which Dr. Taye was accused of leading. Ato Assefa was killed while he was walking to his office and not, as was claimed by the Federal Police, because he tried to escape when he was discovered together with his accomplices while preparing for another act of terrorism. At the time that Ato Assefa was shot dead, no fire arm was found in his possession; the police only found his briefcase, identity paper and some money in his pockets. Furthermore, there was nobody with him at the time of the incident who had surrendered himself to the police.

EHRCO calls upon the Ethiopian government to investigate the killing of Ato Assefa and to bring to court the killer(s). It is a blatant violation of human rights to organize a death squad and have people shot dead in broad daylight in an open street. Hence EHRCO strongly urges the government to take appropriate steps to restrain the security forces from engaging in such acts. The government is also duty bound to ensure the protection of the rights enshrined in Article 15 of FDRE Constitution and Article 6(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which has been ratified by the government) and which provide that every human being has the inherent right to life; no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life. EHRCO urges all those organizations and individuals within and outside Ethiopia who stand for the protection of human rights to condemn the illegal killing of Ato Assefa Maru and to ask the Ethiopian government to bring the killer(s) to justice.