March 23, 2005

Oromo: Ethiopia Arrested Two Journalists

On 15 May 2005, two journalists, Shiferraw Insermu and Dhabassa Wakjira, continue to be detained
RSF has voiced concern that, with general elections due to take place in just two months, on 15 May 2005, two journalists, Shiferraw Insermu and Dhabassa Wakjira, continue to be detained. Insermu and Wakjira, journalists for the Oromo-language service of the state-owned Ethiopian Television (ETV), are accused of having links with an Oromo separatist group.

"As Ethiopians get ready to vote, two journalists continue to languish in a prison where cases of torture and mistreatment are regularly reported by international organisations," RSF said.

"Ethiopia is violating the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights just a few kilometres away from the African Union's Addis Ababa headquarters," the organisation added. "Whatever the charges against them, these two journalists have rights, which have clearly been denied by authorities who have defied the federal High Court's decisions. Under Ethiopian law, Insermu and Wakjira should be released immediately. The circumstances under which they were thrown in prison leads us to suspect that there is absolutely no basis for the charge of terrorism that has been brought against them."

Insermu and Wakjira were initially arrested at their homes in Addis Ababa on 22 April 2004. The federal High Court ordered their release on bail on 9 August, but only Insermu was freed. On 17 August, Insermu was arrested again, but was released on High Court orders in mid-October. As ETV refused to rehire him, he was seeking work as a journalist elsewhere when he was arrested for a third time on 11 January 2005.

Meanwhile, Wakjira has been held without interruption for nearly a year as prison authorities have ignored the various court orders to free him. According to information obtained by RSF in Addis Ababa, both journalists were brought before a court on 7 March, but the hearing was postponed. At present, both men are being held in Addis Ababa's main prison, known as Kerchiele.

According to RSF's information, Insermu and Wakjira have been charged, under Articles 32, 252 and 522 of the Criminal Code, with "passing government information to Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) leaders", "planning attacks", "criminal association of a terrorist nature" and "fundraising for the purposes of carrying out acts of terrorism". Insermu, in particular, has been accused of sending government information to the OLF's Sagalee Bilisummaa Oromoo (the Voice of Oromo Liberation - SBO) radio station "by e-mail or other means".

A former colleague now living in exile said Insermu and Wakjira were detained along with other Oromo employees of ETV, who have since been released. The journalists were arrested after the broadcast of a report about the use of violence by police to disperse a 4 January 2004 Oromo student demonstration on the Addis Ababa university campus. The police arrested many demonstrators, especially members of the Macha Tulema social assistance group, who were protesting the government's decision to move Oromo regional institutions from Addis Ababa to Adama (also known as Nazret), 100 km east of the capital.

Founded in 1974, the OLF is an armed movement that is opposed to Amhara and Tigrean dominance in Ethiopia and believesthat the Oromos of southern Ethiopia should form a separate country, together with the Oromos of northern Kenya. The OLF is backed by Eritrea, the former Ethiopian province where a guerrilla coalition waged a war of independence against Addis Ababa from 1962 to 1991. Following Eritrean independence in 1993, Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a deadly territorial war from 1998 to 2000.

Oromo community organisations and Oromo state employees are often the targets of government repression on accusations of being OLF spies. A human rights report, issued on 28 February by the US State Department, which has in the past tended to favour Ethiopia, was highly critical of human rights violations "especially against persons suspected of being OLF members."

The difficulties encountered by RSF in obtaining information in Ethiopia about Insermu and Wakjira indicate how sensitive the issue has become. The organisation has established that at least 12 Oromo journalists have fled to neighbouring countries since the beginning of 2004 to escape the repression in Ethiopia.

Garuma Bekele, Tesfaye Deressa and Solomon Nemera, managing editor, editor and a journalist, respectively, for the weekly "Urji", spent nearly four years in prison, from 1997 to 2001, for allegedly "participating in terrorist activities" and "publishing inaccurate news." They had simply raised questions about an official statement that three men killed by the security forces were OLF members.

 

Source: All Africa