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June 21, 2021Atlanta, GA, United StatesHuman Rights Violators

Accused human rights violator from Ethiopia arrested on charge of fraudulently obtaining US citizenship

ATLANTA – A Georgia man has been arrested on criminal charges related to allegations that he lied during the Naturalization process, including failing to disclose his participation in political persecution during the 1970s Ethiopian Red Terror campaign.

According to the indictment – which was unsealed following the arrest – Mezemr Abebe Belayneh, 65, of Snellville, served as a civilian interrogator at a makeshift prison in Dilla, Ethiopia, during a period in the late 1970s known as the Red Terror. At the prison, Abebe allegedly ordered and participated in the severe physical abuse and interrogation of prisoners based on their political beliefs. The indictment alleges that Abebe unlawfully procured U.S. citizenship, to which he was not entitled, by concealing his involvement in the Red Terror when he falsely claimed that he had not persecuted anyone because of their political opinions and had never committed a crime for which he had not been arrested.

“Abebe’s lies and horrible past deeds have thankfully come back to haunt him,” said Special Agent in Charge Katrina W. Berger, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “Now he will be held accountable. Thanks to some great work from the agents and officers involved in this case as well as our law enforcement partners, justice will be served.”

HSI’s Atlanta Field Office is investigating the case with the support of the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC). Established in 2008, the HRVWCC furthers the government’s efforts to identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers in the United States, including those who are known or suspected to have participated in persecution, war crimes, genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings, female genital mutilation, and the use or recruitment of child soldiers.

Abebe is charged with two counts of unlawful procurement of naturalization. The maximum sentence for each count is 10 years in prison. If convicted, a federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. A conviction would also result in automatic revocation of Abebe’s U.S. citizenship. The Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Human Rights and Special Prosecution Section as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia are prosecuting the case.

Since 2003, ICE has arrested more than 468 individuals for human rights-related violations of the law under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders and/or physically removed from the United States 1,070 known or suspected human rights violators. Additionally, ICE has facilitated the departure of an additional 174 such individuals from the United States.

Currently, HSI has more than 170 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,700 leads and removal cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries. Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 77,000 lookouts for individuals from more than 110 countries and stopped over 340 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.

Members of the public who have information about foreign nationals suspected of engaging in human rights abuses or war crimes are urged to contact the HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2423 (1-866-347-2423) or its online tip form at www.ice.gov/tips. Callers may remain anonymous. To learn more about the assistance available to victims in these cases, the public should contact ICE's confidential victim-witness toll-free number at 1-866-872-4973.

Updated: 06/22/2021