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Ethiopian Woman Sues Atlanta Man, Alleges Torture in Homeland

September 14, 1990 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) _ An Ethiopian woman filed a lawsuit against an Atlanta hotel worker she claims is the former Ethiopian police official who tortured her in prison.

Filed in federal court Thursday, the civil suits lists five human rights violations allegedly committed by Kelbessa Negewo, who now lives in Atlanta, against Hirute Abebe-Jira in December 1978 and January 1979.

Negewo was served with a copy of the suit at his job at the Colony Square hotel, said David Lerner of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.

Negewo denied today that he tortured Ms. Abebe-Jira. He said he was imprisoned himself for five years during the early 1970s for being a foe of the government and worked in a factory after he was freed from prison.

″Whether they are claiming that I’m the person she wants or not, I didn’t do that,″ Negewo said. ″I was opposing the government.″

The suit was filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows aliens to seek relief in federal court for human rights violations in other countries.

The torture is alleged to have taken place during the ″Red Terror,″ a period of government repression and intimidation in Ethiopia.

At the time, according to the suit, Negewo commanded police forces in part of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

The suit, which seeks a $25 million in damages, said he ″personally interrogated and tortured (Ms.) Abebe-Jira.″

Now a Canadian citizen living in Ontario, Ms. Abebe-Jira was an 18-year-old clerk-accountant when she was arrested.

The suit contends that Negewo and several others, in an eight-hour interrogation in January 1979, tied Ms. Abebe-Jira up and whipped her with a wire on her legs and back.

″She was told she would be killed if she did not reveal the location of a certain gun, about which she knew nothing.″

Ms. Abebe-Jira was held for three months, without being charged, the suit said. ″As a result of the above-described treatment, (she) continues to suffer extreme mental anguish.″

Ms. Abebe-Jira learned of Negewo’s whereabouts in May, when a friend spotted him working at the Atlanta hotel. She then contacted the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Negewo left Ethiopia during the past decade and has previously sought political asylum in the United States, said attorney David Cole, who is handling the case for the center.

Copies of the suit will be sent to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, along with a petition, signed by 40 Ethiopians who live in the United States asking that Negewo be denied asylum, Cole said.