Sign up for PM Award Updates!

Kenya pressures Ethiopia to release journalist detained during unrest

August 18, 2020

Kenya is pressing Ethiopia to release a Kenyan journalist who was detained in Addis Ababa last month amid political and ethnic unrest and has since tested positive for coronavirus.

Yassin Juma, whose real name is Collins Juma Osemo, was arrested in early July shortly after the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular singer from the Oromo ethnic group, kicked off days of violence that left more than 200 people dead.

The office of Ethiopia’s attorney general has told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that Juma was taken into custody by police searching the Addis Ababa home of Jawar Mohammed, a prominent opposition politician who was also detained.

The office “claimed that (Juma) did not identify himself as a journalist,” CPJ said in a statement last week, though Juma has said he was in Ethiopia working on a documentary and as a producer for the UK’s Sky News.

He remains in custody even though an Ethiopian court ordered his release on bail on August 5.

A letter dated August 12 from Kenya’s foreign ministry to Ethiopia’s foreign ministry — seen Tuesday by AFP — said Juma’s bail had been posted and called on Ethiopian officials to intervene to secure his release.

Juma’s continued detention “is highly regrettable and has caused immense anguish and anxiety to him, his family, the people and the Government of the Republic of Kenya,” the letter said.

More than 9,000 people have been rounded up in connection with the violence that followed Hachalu’s death, including a host of high-profile opposition politicians and journalists.

Juma is one of at least two detainees who have tested positive for COVID-19 while in custody, Human Rights Watch said in a statement Saturday.

In a letter published Tuesday by Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, Juma described being held “with 68 other COVID-19 positive inmates with no access to medication in overcrowded cells, no running water and no diet to assist us with our condition”.

“My health is failing with each passing day, and I am not sure if I will make it,” he wrote.

Juma was expected to appear in court Tuesday, but a police officer informed the judge that this would be impossible because of his coronavirus diagnosis, lawyer Tuli Bayyisa told AFP.

Juma’s continued detention is “very, very illegal”, Tuli said.

“Once the court has granted bail and the bail money has been deposited there is no authority whatsoever for the police to keep him in custody,” he said.

Ethiopian judicial officials did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Tuli said he had not been able to meet with Juma but he believes the journalist is still being investigated for alleged involvement in the July violence.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.