Atlanta/ Crime & Emergencies
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Published on March 02, 2024
Snellville Man Gets 30 Years for Illegally Obtaining U.S. Citizenship, Hiding Violent Past from EthiopiaSource: U.S. Immigration Enforcement

A Snellville man, who concealed his brutal past as an interrogator during Ethiopia's "Red Terror" period, has been sentenced to a 30-year term for fraudulently obtaining U.S. citizenship. Mezemr Abebe Belayneh, 67, also known as Mezmur Amare Belayneh, faced Judge William M. Ray II in U.S. District Court where he was ordered to serve three years imprisonment followed by three years supervised release, according to FOX 5 Atlanta.

During the late 1970s Red Terror, Belayneh operated as civilian interrogator at Menafesha, a makeshift prison, where he was implicated in the detention and vicious beatings of political dissidents, many of whom were teenagers. "Mezemr Belayneh violently beat political opponents in Ethiopia and lied about it to U.S. immigration authorities. Through this deception, he unlawfully entered this country and obtained U.S. citizenship," Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri stated, as recounted by Jackson Progress-Argus.

The severity of the accusations painted a picture of horror where teenagers were whipped, beaten with sticks, and forced to fight for the guards' entertainment. This history of violence was hidden from U.S. officials when Belayneh entered the country on a visa in 2001 and later when he became a citizen in 2008. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tal C. Chaiken and Trial Attorney Patrick Jasperse of the Criminal Division's Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, as reported by FOX 5 Atlanta.

Upon sentencing, U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan expressed hope that the judgment would bring some peace to Belayneh's victims and serve as a deterrent, stating, “We hope that today’s sentencing brings a measure of peace and closure to the defendant’s courageous victims—some of whom testified at trial—and sends a clear message to others that we will continue to investigate and prosecute human rights abusers who fraudulently obtain U.S. citizenship," in a sentiment echoed by the Jackson Progress-Argus. Homeland Security Investigations Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger emphasized the importance of safeguarding the naturalization process against those who may attempt to abuse it. "Simply put, those who knowingly and willfully misrepresent themselves to obtain U.S. citizenship status will be held accountable for their deceitful actions," she stated, according to FOX 5 Atlanta.