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Press Release

Georgia Man Sentenced for Fraudulently Obtaining U.S. Citizenship

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Georgia

ATLANTA - Mezemr Abebe Belayneh, also known as “Mezmur Amare Belayneh,” was sentenced today by United States District Court Judge William M. Ray, II, for fraudulently obtaining United States citizenship. Belayneh had unlawfully obtained U.S. citizenship by concealing his involvement in the “Red Terror,” a campaign of oppression and mass killings committed in Ethiopia that began in 1976.                                                                                                                                 

“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.”

“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. “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. “Simply put, those who knowingly and willfully misrepresent themselves to obtain U.S. citizenship status will be held accountable for their deceitful actions.”

According to U.S. Attorney Buchanan, the charges and other information presented in court: Mezemr Abebe Belayneh unlawfully obtained U.S. citizenship in 2008 by concealing his persecution and 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 in which Ethiopia’s ruling military council and its supporters detained, interrogated, tortured, and executed thousands of perceived political opponents.

During the Red Terror, Belayneh served as a civilian interrogator at a makeshift prison known as Menafesha in the city of Dilla, Ethiopia. Belayneh detained teenage victims in a crowded prison for weeks and months, interrogated them about their political beliefs, and directed and participated in severe beatings in which they were whipped or hit with sticks. Belayneh 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 became a U.S. citizen in 2008.

Belayneh, 67, of Snellville, Georgia, was sentenced to 36 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release. On July 26, 2023, Belayneh was convicted of two counts of unlawfully procuring citizenship, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1425(a), following a jury trial.

This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

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

For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at or (404) 581-6280.  The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is

Updated February 29, 2024