Ethiopian authorities arrested Khalid Mohamed, from the faith-based Radio Bilal, alongside his colleague, Darsema Sori, on February 18, 2015 after police called them in for questioning, local journalists said. On August 17, 2015, authorities charged Darsema and Khalid, along with 18 other defendants, of inciting extremist ideology and planning to overthrow the government and replace it with an Islamic government under the 2009 anti-terrorism law, according to news reports that cited the charge sheet.
Khalid worked for Radio Bilal as the news editor, local journalists said. Khalid and Darsema extensively covered protests by the Ethiopian Muslim community that began in 2012 to condemn government interference in Islamic affairs, including the government closing of Awoliya College, the country’s only Muslim college, in 2011. Authorities claimed the institution was training Islamic radicals, according to news reports. Ethiopian authorities have since sought to silence the demonstrations by arresting protesters, community leaders, and independent reporters, and by shutting down news outlets, according to international news reports and CPJ research.
In December 2016, the High Court’s 19th Criminal Bench convicted Darsema and Khalid on terrorism charges, according to CPJ research. On January 3, 2017, the High Court sentenced the co-defendants, with the exception of Darsema, to five years and six months in prison, according to the independently owned news website Addis Standard. The court sentenced Darsema to four years and five months.
In a letter he wrote from Kilinto prison that the Addis Standard republished, Darsema Sori criticized the trial, saying at least 14 judges had presided over the case. The defendants, Darsema wrote, faced “torture and violent interrogation,” but decided not to mount a defense after realizing that it “would do nothing” except lengthen their time at the Kilinto remand center in Addis Ababa.
Since the letter’s publication, authorities moved Darsema to Kality prison. Khalid is in Ziway Prison, Befekadu Hailu, an Ethiopian journalist and blogger, and Soleyana Gebremichael, project coordinator for the Ethiopian Human Rights Project, told CPJ.
Darsema was moved to Kality prison in early 2017 where he is serving out his sentence; Khalid is in Ziway Prison, Befekadu Hailu, an Ethiopian journalist and blogger, and Soleyana Gebremichael, project coordinator for the Ethiopian Human Rights Project, told CPJ. Befekadu told CPJ that ordinarily prisoners serving sentences shorter than five years are typically sent to Shoarobit prison, but Kality is the only facility with a federal prison hospital.
Authorities have previously imprisoned Darsema and Khalid. On August 2, 2013, they were arrested and held without charge for almost five months. Although no reason was provided, former Radio Bilal Chairman Mohammed Hassen said he believed the journalists were arrested for their extensive coverage and support of the Muslim protests.
CPJ called and emailed Ethiopia Information Minister Negeri Lencho and called government Mohamed Seid on multiple occasions in September and October 2017 for comment on this and other cases of imprisoned journalists. The minister and spokesperson did not answer nor reply to text messages.