Ethiopia prison inmates charged over deadly fire

The charges against the 38 inmates say they incited riots and tried to recruit from within the prison for extremist groups.

At least 38 prisoners have been charged in an Ethiopian court with causing a fire that killed dozens of fellow inmates in September.

The authorities say more than 20 inmates died when fire engulfed the Kilinto prison, on the outskirts of the capital Addis Ababa.

Charges against the prisoners contradict earlier accounts by the authorities.

The prisoners are also accused of trying to recruit inmates for banned groups.

‘No clear detail’
Details of what exactly caused the fire at the prison in early September remain scarce.

At the time, the prison was holding hundreds of anti-government protesters and some prominent opposition figures.

Initially, the government said 23 inmates had died of suffocation.

But now, the charge sheet against the accused says the dead prisoners were beaten before being burnt to death.

Bullet wounds
Opposition figures and rights groups have constantly disputed the account given by the authorities while government critics say some of the dead bodies had bullet wounds.

The Ethiopian government declared a six-month state of emergency last month to deal with nearly a year of anti-government protests by two of the country’s biggest ethnic communities.

Demonstrations began in Oromia and then spread to the Amhara region.

Oromia and Amhara are the homelands of the country’s two biggest ethnic groups.

The charges against the 38 inmates also say they incited riots and tried to recruit from within the prison for extremist groups, including the Somali Islamist militant movement al-Shabab.

BBC/Fuhad/Sammie