The law stipulates that unless there is a “crime in progress” police must conduct an investigation and obtain a warrant prior to making an arrest, but this seldom occurred. In cases involving national security, the process may be waived. Detainees must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest and may not be held more than 28 days without being charged with a crime. Suspects generally were detained for longer periods without being brought before a judge, charged with a crime, or in some cases being told the reason for their detention. Authorities also sometimes changed charges during detention. The government promoted the assumption that detainees without charge were being held due to national security concerns.
The law provides for a bail system, but bail was arbitrary, not always set, and sometimes reportedly involved paying bribes.
Detainees in prisons, including those held on national security grounds and those considered indigent, often did not have access to counsel. Incommunicado detention was widespread. Detainees in police stations not held on national security grounds sometimes received family visits. For those detained on national security or religious grounds, authorities usually permitted family members to deliver food and clothing but not to visit the prisoners.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest occurred frequently. Security force personnel detained individuals for activities that included suspicion of intent to evade national and militia service, criticizing the government, practicing certain religious beliefs, and unspecified national security threats.
For example, for a short period following the one-day take-over of the Ministry of Information building on January 21 by a group of military officers, police and other security forces regularly checked individuals’ papers to try to identify those opposed to the government or in violation of military service or militia responsibilities. The government established a military discipline committee, headed by Major General Tekle Kiflai, the commander of the civilian militia, to identify members of the military perceived as disloyal to the president.
Authorities sometimes arrested persons whose papers were not in order and detained them until they were able to provide evidence of their militia status or demobilization from national service. The government contacted places of employment and used informers to attempt to identify those unwilling to participate in the militia.
In October authorities increased document checks, arrests of persons whose papers were not in order, and group arrests known as roundups to minimize citizen expressions of discontent over the government’s response to the capsizing of a boat carrying migrants off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy. Many of those aboard the boat were from Eritrea and Somalia.
There were occasional reports, particularly from rural areas, that security forces detained and arrested the parents or spouses of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.
During the year the government arrested between 200 and 300 members of unregistered religious groups, including members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, on grounds of refusing to bear arms or serve in the militia because of their religious belief. Persons arrested in previous years for refusing to bear arms on grounds of conscience and for participating in unregistered religious groups remained in detention.
In March authorities released without explanation approximately 300 prisoners held since the mid-2000s.
Pretrial Detention: The government held numerous detainees without charge or due process. The percentage of the population of prisons and detention centers in pretrial detention was not available.