Mohamed Qassim is one of four journalists with the Ethiopian broadcaster Nabad TV who were detained on November 10, 2021, after police raided the station’s offices in Jigjiga, the capital of Ethiopia’s Somali Region. Mohamed and his colleagues remained detained in late 2021, accused of incitement to violence.
Mohamed is a camera operator with Nabad TV, a privately owned broadcaster founded by former Women and Youth Affairs Minister Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed, according to media reports and Filsan, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. Nabad TV broadcasts via satellite and on social media, and covers a range of current affairs including Ethiopian and regional politics, according to CPJ’s review of its Facebook and YouTube pages.
On the evening of November 9, police raided Nabad TV’s office in Jigjiga and shut the station down, Filsan told CPJ. The following morning, police detained Mohmed, as well chief editor Ibrahim Hussein, anchor Salman Mukhtar, and reporter Hirsi Mohamed Mahad when they arrived for work at the Nabad TV offices, and transferred them to a local police station, according to Filsan.
On November 12, the journalists were arraigned at a regional court in Jigjiga on charges of inciting violence, and police were granted nine more days to hold them in custody pending investigation, according to a report by the BBC’s Somali service, which CPJ reviewed, as well as a report by the Somalia-based private news outlet Goobjoog Media.
Authorities initially cited Ethiopia’s sweeping state of emergency law, enacted on November 2 by the federal government amid a year-long civil war, as justification for the arrest, according to Filsan and another report by Goobjoog Media. In a statement posted on Facebook, the Somali Region Journalists Association (SRJA), a local press rights group, urged authorities not to use the state of emergency “to curtail freedom of the press.”
In an emailed statement to CPJ on December 1, Abdikarim Aden, a legal adviser in the office of the Somali regional president, said that the journalists had appeared in court on November 26, and their case had been postponed until December 6, pending the appointment of a state-sponsored counsel to defend them.
Abdikarim said the journalists were accused of contravening Ethiopia’s Hate Speech and Disinformation Law.
However, Filsan told CPJ on November 30 that she was not aware of any court appearances by the journalists since their November 12 arraignment.
The allegations against the journalists stem from a report by Nabad TV about the alleged influx of people into the Somali Region who were not ethnically Somali, according to another report by the BBC and Somali Region President Mustafa Omer, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
In the November 9 Nabad TV report, a reporter is heard introducing vox pop interviews by saying that many different ethnic groups live peacefully in the Somali Region. The members of the public interviewed for the report express concern about non-locals relocating to the region, and allege that those people were taking over business and job opportunities. One of the interviewees urged regional authorities to intervene and protect residents and their access to local resources.
Mustafa told CPJ that the four detained journalists were involved in producing that report, which he said had “malicious intent” to agitate against ethnic and religious minorities in the region.
He said that officials would not allow “media freedom to become the cover for outright criminality,” and that officials were concerned about content that could lead to ethnic strife, citing the August 2018 inter-communal violence in Jigjiga. He also said that Nabad TV had received previous warnings about its allegedly inflammatory content.
Abdikarim reiterated Mustafa’s comments, saying that Nabad TV portrayed the “peaceful coexistence” in the region “as a curse rather than a blessing.”
As of mid-November, the journalists were being held at a police station in Jigjiga, according to a statement by the SRJA, which said that its representatives had visited them in jail.
Filsan said that security personnel were still occupying the station’s offices in Jigjiga as of November 30. The station continued to broadcast via satellite from abroad and to post content on its social media pages, according to Filsan and CPJ’s review of those pages.