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Obey Court Order, Release Detained Journalists – CPJ Urges Ethiopian Govt

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a non-profit organisation that promotes press freedom, has asked the Ethiopian government to “immediately and unconditionally” release two journalists and a media worker who were arrested in the first week of March.

Dessu Dulla, Wako Nole, and Ismael Abdulrzaq, respectively journalists and a driver working with Oromia News Network, have been kept in detention despite a court order instructing that they be freed three weeks after their arrest.

In a statement made on Friday, CPJ recalled that the three men were picked up by policemen in Burayu, a town on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.

“On March 30, a court in Burayu ordered the three employees’ release after prosecutors said they could not make a case against them, according to Buli [Edjeta Jobir, the network’s chairperson] and their lawyer, Mulisa Ejetaa, both of whom spoke to CPJ in phone calls and via messaging app.

“However, as of today, the three remain in detention, in violation of court orders issued in March, April, and May, while police claim to be investigating unspecified allegations against them, according to Mulisa, Buli, and an April 21 court document seen by CPJ,” it said.

The committee’s  Sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo, described the network employees’ continued detention in spite of the prosecutors’ confession as an “unacceptable violation of their rights of due process”. 

“They should be released unconditionally, and those responsible for infringing their rights should be held to account,” Mumo said.

CPJ observed that the trio was arrested “alongside two members of the Oromo Liberation Front, Gada Gabbisa and Batire File, shortly after they visited Abdi Regassa, a member of the party’s leadership, who was detained at a Burayu police station.” 

“The network employees knew Abdi personally and also intended to file news reports about their visit, according to Buli, who said that Ismael is also a member of the party. Police initially accused the three of illegally photographing the police station, and claimed that Ismael had intentionally involved himself in a minor traffic accident with the intention of killing the officers who arrested them,” the group said.

After the original court order was ignored by the police, their lawyer filed an application on April 6 to have them produced in court but the security agency again refused to comply, triggering a second release order dated April 8.

“Police produced Ismael in court on April 9, but then returned him to custody and, in the weeks since, police have not complied with several subsequent orders to produce the detainees in court and to release them, Buli and Mulisa said.

“In the April 21 court document reviewed by CPJ, the court said police did not comply with orders, failed to produce defendants when requested, and did not provide evidence for their case. The court ordered the officers to provide an explanation during an April 23 hearing, but they did not appear in court,” CPJ narrated, quoting Buli.

The police in Burayu, on May 13, said Dessu, Wako, and Ismael had been transferred out of their custody, and it was later learnt they are being held at another station in Gelan without reasons given.

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'Kunle Adebajo

Head of Investigations at HumAngle. ‘Kunle covers conflict alongside its many intricacies and fallouts. He also writes about disinformation, the environment, and human rights. He's won a couple of journalism awards, including the 2021 Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Journalism, the 2022 African Fact-checking Award, and the 2023 Michael Elliott Award for Excellence in African Storytelling.

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