Two unidentified attackers shot and killed Oromia Broadcasting Network journalist Sisay Fida on the evening of May 9, 2021, in the town of Dembi Dollo in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, according to reports by his employer, the BBC, Deutsche Welle, and the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Voice of America.
Sisay, a coordinator and reporter with the Oromia Broadcasting Network, a broadcaster owned by the regional government, was walking home from a wedding at the time of the attack, according to those sources.
Ahmed Yassin, the deputy director of peace and security in the West Wellega Zone, whose jurisdiction includes Dembi Dollo, told Voice of America that he believed Sisay had been killed by the Aba Torbe, which officials say is a hit squad linked to the Oromo Liberation Army armed group. Ahmed told Voice of America that he believed Sisay was killed by the Aba Torbe because he was well known in the community and worked for the regional government.
Ahmed also said that police had identified two suspects by name and were searching for them, according to the news reports. As of mid-June 2021, CPJ could not determine if those suspects had been arrested or prosecuted, as regional officials failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.
In a statement sent to CPJ via messaging app, Oromia Liberation Army spokesperson Odaa Tarbii said that the group was not connected to the killing, and added that it was difficult to ascertain the identities of Sisay’s attackers, and called for an independent investigation. Voice of America also cited Bilisuma Gutta, a spokesperson for the Oromo Liberation Army’s Western Zone, who denied that the group was involved in the killing or had any connection to the Aba Torbe. Bilisuma accused the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of killing Sisay; he did not provide any explanation for why it would have done so.
Sisay had recently received deaths threats related to his work, according to Dina Mufti, a spokesperson for Ethiopia’s foreign ministry as quoted by the Oromia Broadcasting Network, and an employee of the network, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns.
That colleague and another Oromia Broadcasting Network employee who also requested anonymity for safety concerns, both said that they believed Sisay was targeted for his work with the station.
The Oromia Broadcasting Network’s news coverage is generally supportive of both the federal and regional government, according to CPJ’s review of its coverage and research by International Media Support, a media development organization.
CPJ found two reports filed by Sisay in October and November 2020, in which he covered agricultural research at the local Dembi Dollo University. CPJ was unable to find examples of Sisay’s work from the time immediately before he was killed.
One of Sisay’s colleagues as well as another journalist familiar with his case who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, told CPJ that Sisay had recently worked on a report about public opinion concerning the Ethiopian federal parliament’s May 5 classification of the Oromo Liberation Army as a terrorist organization. On that day, the parliament also similarly classified the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a group fighting the federal government in northern Ethiopia, according to reports.
In Dina’s remarks republished by Sisay’s employer, he stated that the journalist’s death “is attributable to the act of the recently parliament-designated terrorist Shene group [a term referencing the Oromia Liberation Army] operating in the area.” One of Sisay’s colleagues also told CPJ that they believed the Oromo Liberation Army was behind the attack.
Sisay, 56, began his career at the state-owned broadcaster Oromia Television, and in 2007 began reporting for the Oromia Broadcasting Network and coordinating its work in the West Wellega Zone, according to an obituary published on Facebook by the network.
The Oromia Broadcasting Network did not respond to CPJ’s emails and messages sent to its Facebook pages seeking comment; CPJ’s calls to the broadcaster did not connect or went unanswered.
Billene Seyoum, a spokesperson for the prime minister’s office, referred CPJ to local Oromia officials for comment.
When CPJ called Oromia regional government spokesperson Getachew Balcha in May 2021, he said that he was too busy to speak; CPJ repeatedly called and sent messages via messaging app for comment, but he did not respond. CPJ also called, emailed, and sent Facebook messages to the Oromia Communications Bureau, the regional government’s public relations office, but did not receive any replies.
CPJ called Oromia Police Commissioner Ararsa Merdassa for comment, but the calls did not connect, and he did not reply to messages sent via messaging app.