An Ethiopian man who had been living in Alexandria, Virginia, has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for lying about participating in human rights violations during the naturalization process to obtain his U.S. citizenship.
Mergia Negussie Habteyes, 58, was arrested and charged last year after it was discovered that he had acted as a civilian interrogator in Ethiopia’s Higher prison between 1977 and 1978, a time of brutal military rule in Ethiopia known as the “Red Terror.”
“Negussie tortured detainees on account of their political opinion by beating them with belts, rods, and other objects, causing in many instances permanent scarring and injury,” said a Thursday news release from the Justice Department.
Negussie participated in the torture of detainees because of their affiliation with the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party, according to the Justice Department.
Negussie came to the United States in 1999 after lying to immigration officials to enter the country as a refugee. He became a naturalized citizen in 2008.
At a plea hearing, Negussie admitted that he lied during his naturalization interviews when asked if he had ever persecuted anyone for their political opinions and that he failed to disclose that he had a committed a crime for which he was not arrested. Negussie also admitted that he lied when he said he had never given false or misleading information to a U.S. government official while attempting to obtain citizenship.
In addition to the three year sentence in federal prison, Negussie’s citizenship was revoked.
“Negussie hid his past atrocities as a human rights abuser and lied his way into the United States,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “United States citizenship and the protections and privileges that accompany it is not intended for those who persecute their fellow man.”