A group of Kenyans have revealed how they were tortured when held as terrorist suspects in an Ethiopian jail.
In interviews with journalists on Saturday, the men said that for two long years they lay in their cells with their hands bound tightly behind their backs.
They were bound tightly hand and foot when being dragged from their cells to be interrogated, often by American intelligence agents and people from Israel’s anti-terrorism unit.
And they were regularly beaten — often just for asking for water.
Ethiopian soldiers who guarded them in the jail, in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, hit them brutally on the hands, legs and back, they said.
The men said they were seldom allowed out of their cells, and were refused permission to send or receive letters to their loved ones.
Emotions ran high as the men recounted their ordeal after being reunited yesterday with their families, relatives and friends.
They were brought back to Kenya after police and immigration officials confirmed their identities as Kenyans.
They had been taken to Ethiopia after trying to return to Kenya at the border with Somalia.
Because, they said, they feared arrest, they had denied being Kenyan and so were sent back to Somalia, and then passed on to the Ethiopians who had defeated the Islamic Courts Union which had been fighting the legitimate transitional Government of Somalia.
The Kenyans had originally gone to Somalia in 2006, according to the Kenya Government, to fight with the various militias trying to overturn the transitional Government.
The eight were flown from Ethiopia to Voi, arriving last night. They were then escorted to rejoin their families.
Those who spoke to the Sunday Nation on Saturday said the eight prisoners who had been returned were kept with 12 others of different nationalities in one cell measuring 20 feet by 15.
They said Ethiopian military personnel had tortured them.
All 20 prisoners were fed on Ethiopian staple injera made from teff and beans for the most part but they said they were never starved.
Four of the eight men — Salim Awadh, Bashir Hussein, Said Hamisi and Ali Musa — who arrived in Mombasa said that in spite of a government statement to the contrary, they were neither terrorists nor had they undergone any training in terrorism in Somalia.
The four said a military court in Ethiopia had cleared them of any wrongdoing.
“We were taken to court while in Ethiopia and we were cleared of involvement in terror-related activities,” said Mr Awadh, aged 36.
Mr Awadh said that he was arrested with his wife at Kiunga on the Kenya border as they tried to travel home after fighting started between the Ethiopians backing the Transitional Government of Somalia and the rebel Islamic Courts Union.
“I was in Somalia conducting a phone repair business, I am a telephone technician,” said Mr Awadh.
He admitted, however, that when held he was with the wife of Harun Fazul, the man wanted for the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
He said that their identity cards and other personal effects including money were taken from them on their way to Ethiopia. “Fazul’s wife had 5,000 euros and $1,600 which were taken from her.
Police took away my Nokia N70 worth $350,” said Mr Awadh, adding that they were blindfolded everywhere they went.
He said that they were harshly treated by having their hands tied from behind throughout their stay in jail in Ethiopia.
Mr Awadh said that his wife Fatma Ahmed was released on April 1 this year and was taken to their home in Moshi, Tanzania, and that since then he had not communicated with her.
He said that at the time of his arrest in Kiunga, they were locked up at Kiunga police station before being flown to Nairobi.
“Then we were taken to Mogadishu deep in the forest. It was very hot, almost 40 degrees centigrade,” said Mr Awadh.
He added they were kept in a dirty store and stayed for 10 days without being allowed to take a shower.
Mr Bashir Sader Hussein, 50, said he was assaulted by Ethiopian troops by being beaten on the legs, hands and the back.
“You can see my hand is swollen and my leg has scars,” said Mr Hussein.
He said that Ethiopians were always asking why the Kenya Government was not keen on taking them back.
“When the court cleared us of any wrongdoing, the Ethiopians wondered why the Kenyan government did not want us,” said Mr Hussein.
He said he was a boat maker in Kiunga and that at no time had he involved himself with terrorism.
Mr Hussein’s wife Ms Shamsum Mohamed said that life had become difficult for her during the time her husband was arrested.
“I was forced to transfer my children from private to public school since I could not afford the fees,” said Ms Mohamed.
Thirty-five-year-old Said Hamisi Mohamed said that he was arrested when he went to take his wife, who is Somali, from Somalia.
Ali Musa Mwarusi from Bongwe in Msambweni said he was arrested with his brother when they were returning to the country after engaging in construction work in Somalia.
“Together with my brother we had gone to Somalia when we received a contract for constructing a house,” said Mr Mwarusi.
He denied claims that they had gone to fight the Ethiopian forces in Somalia, saying that they went to Somalia only to work.
“While at the cells in Addis Ababa we were interrogated by the F.B.I and the Israeli detectives,” said Mr Mwarusi adding that they only asked them why they were not being taken back to the country.
He said the detectives tortured some suspects from other countries whom they thought were not speaking the truth.
Mr Mwarusi said that it was difficult communicating to the Ethiopian soldiers who did not understand English but only Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia.
“The only words they know are ‘sit down’,” said Mr Mwarusi who added that he was grateful for his return home.
Nominated MP Sheikh Mohamed Dor called on Government spokesman Alfred Mutua to resign for saying that the released suspects would still be investigated.
“Mutua should just resign, he said that the suspects were not Kenyans, he has now been proved wrong,” said Sheikh Dor, adding that they will take all eight released suspects to hospital for medical check up.
Dr Mutua was reported on Friday as saying that the eight men will remain under strict government surveillance until a decision is made on what should be done.