For Immediate Release
October 24, 2019
Founded in exile in March 2014, in a context of extensive government control of the media in Ethiopia, the Oromia Media Network (OMN) provided an alternative platform to voice the concerns of the Oromo people and the oppressed peoples of Ethiopia. It is indisputable that OMN has had a remarkable contribution to Ethiopia’s hoped-for transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Through its balanced, responsible, and inclusive journalism and reporting, it has highlighted the implications of government policies, thereby framing the debates and the issues for the public. As a result of, and to further contribute to, the ongoing changes and widening of the political landscape of the country, OMN was invited by the new leadership of Ethiopia to operate from within the country. We warmly welcomed the government’s invitation and promptly opened an office and registered OMN in Finfinnee, and started operating since last year under the laws of Ethiopia.
After opening its Finfinnee office in August 2018, OMN has maintained its commitment to ethical and balanced journalism. However, to our disbelief and dismay, there has been a systematic and relentless campaign against OMN on private and public media as well as on social media, not least for covering the plights of minorities in other regional states. One of the few independent media serving over 45 million Oromos as well as other nations and nationalities, OMN has been operating under growing challenges that have taken an alarming turn on October 22, 2019. What happened during the day in the Ethiopian Parliament was disturbing, and we suspect that it set the tone for what was to follow. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responded to a question about media responsibility raised from a member of the parliament, where he threatened to take decisive measures to those he called “media-owning foreign citizens that hold a non-Ethiopian passport.” Sadly, the Prime Minister resorted to threats and intimidations just less than two weeks after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Following that, Jawar made it clear on his Facebook page that he sought foreign citizenship under persecution, when the former leadership of the Ethiopian government denied renewing his Ethiopian passport. What followed in action during the same night around the residence of Jawar Mohammed is more alarming than the intimidation that transpired in the parliamentary speech. Unless proven otherwise, there seems a clear connection between the parliamentary speech and the reckless action taken during the night.
After midnight, there was an attempt by authorities to remove security personnel assigned to Jawar for his safety without Jawar’s knowledge. After a long standoff between Jawar’s security guards and the security personnel trying to dislodge the former through a gravely suspicious procedure, Jawar gave a briefing of the sequence of events in the morning of October 23, 2019, and later that day to various media. There is credible evidence, including a recorded conversation between Jawar’s security guards and their commander, suggesting serious procedural flaws and criminal intents. For now, this situation is partially diffused because the security assigned to Jawar refused to leave their post until their replacements arrived.
Shortly after the incident, we have witnessed a widely shared public outrage and protest in various cities and towns. The short press conference given by the Federal Police Commissioner is dishonest and inconsistent with the available evidence. The press release of the President of Oromia Regional State is yet to be confirmed through concrete actions.
The implications of such an attack are far beyond Jawar as an individual and OMN as an organization, potentially jeopardizing the anticipated transition to inclusive and participatory democracy. It is highly likely to ignite a constellation of damaging events that are difficult to control.
Therefore, after a serious deliberation in response to last night’s incident and in solemn concern for OMN’s freedom of operation, the safety of Jawar, the people of Oromia, and the stability of the country at large, the Board of Trustees of OMN:
1. Condemns the grave security infractions that seriously endangered the safety of Jawar in the strongest terms possible.
2. Rejects the briefing given by the Federal Police Commissioner and demand a credible explanation from the government in the shortest time possible.
3. Demands that the Ethiopian government holds a credible investigation and explains its results as soon as possible.
4. Urges the government to hold a credible investigation and all responsible bodies to account for their actions and inactions. The source and chain of the command should be identified.
5. Demands that OMN and its employees be allowed to operate in a climate free of intimidation and urges the government of Oromia Regional State to play its part in ensuring a safe working environment.
We strongly believe that the steps that should be taken to serve justice and rectify the situation must be transparent and reflective of the seriousness of the problem. OMN has persisted in the service of the people and remains to be an independent source of news for the voiceless, while abiding by the law of the land. Let it be clear to all that we at OMN take our responsibility seriously and recommit to undertake our activities ethically and in the interest of the people.
Media cannot operate constructively under repressive conditions. To require any media to operate according to the law of the land is understandable. What we do not understand is the relentless media campaign against OMN and government-sponsored intimidation of this media, which the Oromo people count as its own. As we renew our commitment to the advancement of democracy, freedom, and development in Ethiopia, we strongly urge the government to carry out a credible investigation and hold all responsible bodies to account for their actions and inactions. Finally, we call upon our people to continue their unwavering support for their media.