Ethiopian security personnel arrested Udii Musaa on November 3, 2020, detained him without charge, and interrogated him about his former work as a reporter for the Oromia Media Network.
Until June 2020, Udii worked as a reporter for the Oromia Media Network, a privately owned satellite broadcaster, where he covered news in the eastern Ethiopian cities of Harar and Chiro, according to one of his lawyers, Tofik Nadi, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and two of Udii’s friends who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
Following the closure of the outlet’s offices in Ethiopia in June, Udii lost his job and moved to the Oromia regional city of Adama, Tofik and the Udii’s friends said.
On November 3, security personnel in Adama arrested Udii outside his home, according to another of his lawyers, Abduljebar Hussein, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Abduljebar, who spoke to Udii in custody, told CPJ that these security officers made Udii walk through the outskirts of Adama that night, and brought him to a police station in the city the following morning.
Police at that station did not question or interrogate Udii for over two weeks, Abduljebar said, and claimed that they were holding him at the behest of federal police. On November 19, an interrogator told Udii that he was detained due to his alleged connection to groups and individuals that sought to “assume power through unconstitutional means,” Abudljebar told CPJ.
Abduljebar said that police cited groups including the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front, a political party in Ethiopia’s northern state that was in armed conflict with the federal government in late 2020, and Jawar Mohamed, a politician who previously headed the Oromia Media Network and who is currently detained on allegations including terrorism.
Abduljebar told CPJ that the interrogator argued that Udii had such connections to the party and to Mohamed because of his work as a journalist with the Oromia Media Network.
On November 30, Tofik filed an application to the Adama High Court for Udii’s release, he said.
During a hearing on December 1, a state prosecutor told the court that Udii was detained in connection to violence that followed the June 29 killing of a popular musician, Hachalu Hundessa, Tofik told CPJ.
The court adjourned to December 3, when the judge was expected to make a ruling on the release application, Tofik said.
Ethiopian authorities shuttered the Addis Ababa offices of the Oromia Media Network on June 30, 2020, and in the following weeks arrested four journalists and one media worker from the outlet, as two lawyers representing the journalists, Tuli Bayyisa and Kedir Bullo, told CPJ at the time.
By early December, one of the employees arrested in July, Melese Direbsa, remained detained on charges of inciting violence on the network in the wake of Hacahalu’s killing, according to a charge sheet reviewed by CPJ. The network as a corporate entity is also facing similar charges, as is another editor, Dejene Gutema, who is being tried in absentia, according to that sheet.
As of December 1, 2020, Udii remained detained at the Woreda 3 Police Station in Adama, according to Tofik.
Oromia regional spokesperson Getachew Balcha did not answer CPJ’s calls in early December 2020 or respond to a text message requesting comment on Udii’s case.
In late November, federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi and the prime minister’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, both referred CPJ to the office of the federal attorney general for comment on the case of detained journalists, including Udii. That office did not respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment on Udii’s case.