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ATLANTA — On July 26, a federal jury in the Northern District of Georgia convicted Mezemr Abebe Belayneh, 67, of Snellville, Georgia, of fraudulently obtaining U.S. citizenship by lying about his role in persecuting teenagers in Ethiopia for their political opinions.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Belayneh unlawfully obtained U.S. citizenship in 2008 by lying about and concealing the fact that he persecuted and committed acts of violence against political opponents during a period known as the “Red Terror” in Ethiopia. The Red Terror was a campaign of brutal violence in the late 1970s when Ethiopia’s ruling military council and its supporters detained, interrogated, tortured and executed thousands of perceived political opponents.
“Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is committed to identifying and apprehending human rights violators who try to evade justice by seeking shelter in the United States,” said HSI Atlanta acting Special Agent in Charge Travis Pickard, who oversees operations in Georgia and Alabama. “The United States is not a safe haven for these criminals, and we will never stop looking for them or seeking justice for their victims.”
During the Red Terror, Belayneh served as a civilian interrogator at a makeshift prison known as Menafesha in Dilla, Ethiopia. He detained teenage victims in a crowded prison for weeks or months, interrogated them about their political beliefs, and directed or participated in severe beatings where the teens were whipped or hit with sticks. He also forced prisoners to physically fight one another for the prison guards’ amusement.
Belayneh concealed that conduct when he obtained a visa to enter the United States in 2001 and when he naturalized to become a U.S. citizen in 2008.
The jury convicted Belayneh of one count of procuring citizenship contrary to law and one count of procuring citizenship to which he was not entitled. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 30 and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for each count. A federal district court judge will determine his sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
HSI Atlanta investigated the case with coordination provided by the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC).
Established in 2008, the HRVWCC furthers HSI’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. The HRVWCC leverages the expertise of a select group of agents, lawyers, intelligence and research specialists, historians and analysts who direct the agency’s broader enforcement efforts against these offenders.
Currently, HSI has more than 160 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,700 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries. Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 78,000 lookouts for individuals and stopped over 350 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the United States.
Members of the public who have information about foreign nationals suspected of engaging in human rights abuses or war crimes are urged to call the HSI tip line at 866-347-2423. Callers may remain anonymous. Individuals can also fill out the online tip form.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.
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