Two OMN Journalists Freed on Bail but Colleagues Remain in Ethiopian Jail | ZeHesha

Two OMN Journalists Freed on Bail but Colleagues Remain in Ethiopian Jail

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By Sora Halake/VOA
September 01, 2020

After over 45 days in prison, Ethiopian journalist Guyo Wario was finally released on bail Tuesday. But at least three of his Oromia Media Network (OMN) colleagues remain in custody.

“I am so happy for being with family now. [The] prison situation was very tough, but the court investigated my case and approved my bail. I am so happy,” he told VOA’s Horn of Africa service.

A lower court ordered Wario’s release on bail a week ago, and the higher court gave the final order Monday, but paperwork delayed the release, a family member said.

Wario and his colleagues were arrested as authorities cracked down after protests and violence erupted in several Oromia cities and abroad over the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, an Oromo cultural and political singer who was shot dead in Addis Ababa on June 29.

Media and civil rights groups have raised concerns about Ethiopia’s responses to the unrest, including internet blocks, and the arrests of journalists, protesters, and several members of the opposition including Jawar Mohamed, from the Oromo Federalist Congress and members of the Oromo Liberation Front.

By mid-August, nearly 180 people, including demonstrators and some law enforcement, had been killed and 9,000 arrested as protesters and security forces clashed, Human Rights Watch said.  Authorities cut off access to the internet for weeks and suspended at least three news networks, including OMN.

Wario, who interviewed Hundessa shortly before the killing, was one of four OMN journalists arrested, along with an IT technician, the news outlet’s lawyer Tokuma Dhaba said. They are being investigated on accusations of incitement, according to the press freedom organization Committee to Protect Journalists.

In this image taken from OBN video, the coffin carrying Ethiopia singer Hachalu Hundessa is lowered into the ground during the…
In this image taken from OBN video, the coffin carrying Ethiopia singer Hachalu Hundessa is lowered into the ground during the funeral in Ambo, Ethiopia, Thursday July 2, 2020.

OMN journalist Mohamed Siraj was released on bail Saturday but Mellese Diribsa and camera operator Nasir Adem, along with Minnesota resident IT technician Misha Adem Cirrii, remain in detention, the lawyer said.

Dhaba said a court had ordered Diribsa to be released on bail, but the journalist remains in jail.

Fekadu Tsega, who directs the Office of the Attorney General, told VOA that Wario was suspected of incitement, but did not specify what led to the allegation.

VOA Horn of Africa’s attempts to reach officials including Tesega for further comment were not successful.

Risks of contracting COVID-19 in detention

CPJ’s sub-Saharan chief Muthoki Mumo said that the health of these journalists is put at risk if authorities hold them for long periods in pretrial detention during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kenyan journalist Collins Juma Osemo, also known as Yassin Juma, told VOA he contracted COVID-19 while in a detention center, after being accused of multiple charges including inciting violence. Juma was released from a quarantine facility last week.

Mumo said that at least three other reporters, including journalists from the privately owned ASRAT Media, were also arrested in July.

Reporter suspensions

As well as the arrests, authorities at the end of June suspended OMN along with the broadcasters ASRAT and Dimtsi Weyane.

Some reports said the outlets were suspended for three months over allegations of hate speech, inciting violence and misinformation. At least one report said the ASRAT suspension was related to a registration issue. The outlets denied the accusations.

In early July, CPJ reported that the office of the federal attorney general alleged that the media outlets were fomenting conflict among ethnic communities.

If OMN and other media outlets want to continue reporting, they have choices, Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) Deputy Director-General Wondwosen Andualem  was quoted as saying in a BBC Afan Oromo report.

The authority advised some private media companies on several occasions to correct mistakes, Andualem said, adding, “We don’t want to ban them forever.”

VOA was unable to reach EBA for comment via phone. Calls either didn’t go through because of a bad connection or were unanswered.

Quoting family members and persons familiar with the situation, OMN lawyer Dhaba said authorities have also blocked the station’s bank accounts and frozen its journalists’ assets. “But we are still trying to find out which department has blocked (the) accounts,” he said.

“Following Hachalu’s assassination, several documents and studio equipment were taken away by police from our Addis Ababa studio and OMN bank accounts are blocked,” Dhaba said.

Individuals inside Ethiopia told VOA Horn of Africa this week that OMN is broadcasting from abroad and people can still access the station from inside Ethiopia.

The arrests and shutdowns appear to signal a worrying trend just two years after what media rights groups had described as a turning point in Ethiopia’s press freedom record.

In 2018, CPJ noted that no journalists were in custody for their work and that Ethiopian authorities had restored access to over 200 websites.

Mumo said incidents that have taken place are concerning when it comes to “a trajectory of press freedom in Ethiopia.”

In the past two years, authorities have detained journalists, passed restrictive laws, and cut internet access during periods of unrest, civil rights groups say.

VOA’s calls to the federal police commission and federal attorney general office for comment were not successful.

The parliament in February passed a law that punishes “hate speech” and disinformation with hefty fines and lengthy jail terms.

In a statement in December, Human Rights Watch called for Ethiopia to revise the bill,  which it warned could “significantly curtail freedom of expression.”

This report originated in VOA’s Horn of Africa service .

4 Comments

  1. OMN is fake news. ውሸትም ዘረኛ ፖለቲከኞች. Please don’t insult the noble profession of journalism by calling them journalists because they are not. They are politicians and political activist advancing a tribalist political agenda. Plus, they don’t speak for all Oromos. The Oromo people are as diverse as Ethiopia itself. They are a large and heterogeneous society. From region to religion and from language to culture as well as educational level and economic status Oromos are very diverse people. So it’s patently absurd for OMN to claim that it represents the Oromo people. They certainly don’t represent Abiy. OMN represents the Jawar mindset. Period.

  2. This is an encouraging news for me cuz it shows the maturity and fairness of the judicial system . It a slow progress but if it continues in this direction the day is in sight when it will gain trust and certifies itself as the third and independent branch of the government. By no means this is a victory for bigots, arsonists and body snatchers. There is a law in the book for those demons and connivers and they should face the full weight of the verdict that comes out of it. Nobody has tried to poison anyone in prison. Doctors who had taken the inviolable and sacred Hippocrates Oath of Do No Harm have given clean bill of health to those who came up with a sour stomach. Fantasizing about sacrificing is totally different for those who lack the gallantry to face it. Connivers and those who profit from mumbling about other’s misery never possess that courage. They are very good in sending their blind followers ujuum in awaiting fire from the safety of their luxury pads. Who says advocacy and the struggle for human rights is a cake walk. Nights of munching down fillet mignon at the dinner table everyday are gone, baby. It is time to slim down that bulging waist at its seams. You know this reminds me of stories of heroism I read in the memoirs from the days of the blood thirsty Mengistu. I had read accounts about how many young people were spitting into the faces of their tormentors and hangmen on their way to their gallows. Even though they were sent into a raging fire by their misguided leaders they have gained my utmost respect and admiration for their gallantry. Hats off to them may they rest in eternal peace.

    So kudos to the judicial system for this decision.

  3. The leaders of fanatic tribalist groups like OMN, OLF, TPLF and the new Amara version have sought to incite violence, but calling them leaders of the Oromo, Tigreans and Amaras is factually incorrect and amplifies the stereotype of violent elements within each group.

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