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Kenyan journalist still held in Ethiopia despite court order for his release

By East Africa Correspondent , Garowe Online

ADDIS ABABA - A Kenyan journalist is still languishing in an Ethiopian prison over a month after his arrest, his lawyers said, despite a court order issued a week ago which instructed authorities in Addis Ababa to give him freedom after a successful presentation by his legal team.

Yassin Juma was taken to prison along with a host of others for allegedly triggering chaos in the Horn of Africa nation, following the assassination of Hachalu Hundesa, a renowned musician from Oromo ethnic who was shot dead in the streets of Addis Ababa.

But a court in Addis Ababa ruled that Juma was entitled to bail, despite objection by the prosecution team. However, to date, the order is yet to be affected, plunging the journalist into further misery in a foreign nation.

Press freedom groups are calling on Ethiopian authorities to release Yassin Juma, who was arrested in July along with two Ethiopian journalists. They are charged with inciting ethnic violence and plotting to kill senior Ethiopian officials, which they strongly deny.

Tuli Bayisa, Juma's lawyer, was in court on Monday where he pushed for the release of the journalist after having paid the bail. The lawyer, who was hired by business magnate Jawar Mohammed, a critic of PM Abiy Ahmed, said police are hell-bent to continue holding him in prison.

“They are telling her [the judge] first it’s the federal policy that has been investigating them, and now the Addis Ababa police commission wants to investigate the matter once again, they said,” Bayisa told Voice of America.

Juma was arrested along with two Ethiopian journalists while covering protests that erupted after the killing of Oromo singer Hachalu Hundessa. Hundessa, known for his political and activist songs, was gunned down in Addis Ababa in July, sparking widespread ethnic tensions.

Their arrest coincided with that of Jawar Mohamed, who was also accused of mobilizing demonstrators. Despite being accused of plotting to kill Ethiopian officials, authorities in Ethiopia are yet to present an iota of evidence to back the grave accusations.

“They have to release the suspects. If they are dissatisfied with the decision of the court that is granting bail they have to appeal against the decision. Unless that decision has been suspended by the high court, the police are duty-bound to release them. Now Yassin and the rest of eleven suspects are illegally detained by the police officers, as far as we know,” said the lawyer.

The Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] says an Ethiopian court in March ordered police to release three arrested journalists. But police continued to detain them for weeks before finally letting them go, something which has attracted retribution from the international community.

Muthoki Mumo, the CPJ’s representative for sub-Saharan Africa, called for respect of human rights and freedoms of press in Ethiopia, a country witnessing increased democratic space being engineered by Ahmed's administration. However, Mumo added, such gained have been strained in recent weeks.

“I would like to emphasize that the concern about the respect of court orders in the cases of journalists who are detained for us at CPJ goes beyond this very moment and goes even historically if you look at what has been happening in Ethiopia since January," she said.

"We have previously researched and documented cases where journalists have been ordered released, and they were not released,” added Mumo, who also asked Ethiopian authorities to comply with the rule of law and international statutes on Human Rights.

Kenyan media reports the country’s Ambassador in Addis Ababa Catherine Mwangi sent a protest note on Juma’s detention to Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry. The Nation Media quoted Mwangi writing that “The embassy notes with concern that he has still not been released and that this is causing him and his family a lot of distress.”


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