Suleiman Mahamed, a driver with the state-owned Dire Dawa Mass Media Agency, died on July 19, 2018, from injuries sustained during a July 13, 2018, attack, according to articles by the privately owned newspaper The Reporter. At the time of the attack, Suleiman, 37, was part of a news crew of five traveling to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, to cover a visit by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, according to The Reporter and three journalists who are familiar with the case and who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal.
In addition to Suleiman, the news crew included producer Amero Tesfaye, cameraman Amin Sherif, and broadcast reporters Biftu Yusuf and Muser Omer, all of whom are based in Dire Dawa city, according to The Reporter and the three journalists who spoke to CPJ.
The news crew was stopped on the evening of July 13 by a group of unknown attackers in Meiso, a town in Ethiopia’s Oromia State, Deressa Terese, the deputy head of the state’s communication bureau, told CPJ. The attackers questioned them about their trip, accused them of being spies, and then hit them with sticks and their fists, even after they had shown documents identifying themselves as journalists and explained the purpose of their trip, according The Reporter and the journalists with whom CPJ spoke. After the initial assault, the attackers took the crew to a local police station. However, Suleiman decided to leave the station by himself, saying he did not trust the police officers, and was later found by police unconscious and badly beaten in the city, according to the journalists with whom CPJ spoke. Deressa told CPJ he believed that the original group of attackers was also responsible for the second assault on Suleiman.
Suleiman was taken to a hospital in Dire Dawa, where he spent nearly a week in a coma before he passed away, according to the journalists who spoke to CPJ. According to The Reporter, Suleiman was a father of three and expecting his fourth child.
It was not immediately clear why the attackers took the crew to the police station. According to Deressa, the attackers wanted the crew investigated for being spies. However, two of the journalists with whom CPJ spoke said that some of the attackers wanted the crew members taken to the police station for their own safety.
The assault came shortly after a clash along the border between the Oromia and Somali regions of Ethiopia, part of a longer history of conflict in the region, according to Deressa. Journalists who spoke to CPJ said that the attackers likely perceived the news crew as outsiders associated with Ethiopia’s Somali region. Suleiman was of Somali ethnicity, according to the journalists who spoke to CPJ.
On August 2, 2018, Deressa told CPJ that police were still investigating Suleiman’s killing and that he did not have any updates on the status of the case. As of August 9, 2018, no one had been arrested or charged in connection with the case, a journalist who is familiar with the case but requested anonymity for fear of reprisal told CPJ.