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Press Release

Human Rights Violator Sentenced for Immigration Fraud and U.S. Citizenship Revoked

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

A Georgia man was sentenced today to three years in prison for unlawfully obtaining U.S. citizenship by lying about his role in persecuting teenagers in Ethiopia in the 1970s for their political opinions.

According to court documents, Mezemr Abebe Belayneh, also known as Mezmur Amare Belayneh, 68, of Snellville, unlawfully obtained U.S. citizenship in 2008 by lying about and concealing that he persecuted and committed acts of violence against perceived 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 in which Ethiopia’s ruling military council and its supporters detained, interrogated, tortured, and executed civilians.

“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,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Individuals who persecuted people in their home countries should take note: if you seek refuge unlawfully in the United States, we will investigate and prosecute you.”

During the Red Terror, Belayneh served as a civilian interrogator at a makeshift prison housed in a hotel known as Menafesha in Dilla, Ethiopia. According to witness testimony, Belayneh interrogated victims about their political beliefs, and directed and participated in severe beatings in which they were whipped or hit with sticks while imprisoned in Dilla. Belayneh concealed this conduct when he obtained a visa to enter the United States in 2001 and when he applied to become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2008.

“Belayneh obtained U.S. citizenship by concealing from immigration authorities the abuse he inflicted on teenagers in Ethiopia during the Red Terror in the late 1970s,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan for the Northern District of Georgia. “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.”

“When a person attempts to become a U.S. citizen under false pretenses, it jeopardizes our naturalization process and we will not stand idly by for war criminals and human rights violators to use our nation as a safe haven,” said Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “Simply put, those who knowingly and willfully misrepresent themselves to obtain U.S. citizenship status will be held accountable for their deceitful actions.”                                                                                        

A federal jury convicted Belayneh in July 2023 of one count of procuring citizenship contrary to law and one count of procuring citizenship to which he was not entitled. In addition to his prison sentence, Belayneh’s U.S. citizenship was also revoked.

HSI Atlanta investigated the case, with coordination provided by the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC). Established in 2009, 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 mutilation, and the use or recruitment of child soldiers.

Trial Attorney Patrick Jasperse of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tal C. Chaiken for the Northern District of Georgia prosecuted the case, with assistance from HRSP Senior Historian Dr. Christopher Hayden. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs also provided significant assistance.

Members of the public who have information about former human rights violators in the United States are urged to contact U.S. law enforcement through the HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or its online tip form at

Updated February 29, 2024

Press Release Number: 24-232