On Thursday, February 24, 2022, a court in the Gelan town of the Oromia Regional State in Ethiopia allowed police 14 more investigation days’ request on Journalist Tamerat Negera. This court decision came despite many Ethiopians’ calls for his release from his unjust detention. Tamerat Negera, 44, founder and Managing Editor of Terara Network, an online media, has been arrested since December 10, 2021. The federal government of Ethiopia declared a state of emergency on November 2, 2021, which allowed the police to detain Tamerat without trial and charges for two months. After the state of emergency was lifted on February 15, 2022, the police alleged that Tamerat disseminated false information, tarnished the government’s image on his analysis and programs, and committed a variety of other offenses. Regardless of the allegations, they have failed to formally identify and charge him with a crime yet, for more than 100 days.
Tamerat is widely known for consistently voicing strong criticisms about the current political affairs of Ethiopia. Among some of his strong opinions are about the undemocratic nature of the current ruling party, its incapable leadership, and even dictatorship. On February 17, after initially requesting 14 days, police were given seven days to complete a police investigation. However, during the second hearing, the judges allowed the police 14 more days for investigation. A frequent remand granted by the court for a person who was in prison for three months is a clear violation of his rights.
An international campaign has been calling for the release of Tamerat Negera, with events and statements from numerous international human rights organizations, advocacy groups, journalists’ rights defenders March 2022 | Addis Ababa Ethiopian journalist jailed for more than three months without charges under the current administration like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Local human rights activists, also organized social media campaigns that show his continued detention without charges is illegal. The campaigns demanded that the Ethiopian authorities immediately and unconditionally release the journalist, it appears he will remain in jail without bond for more weeks to come. Tamerat is only being detained for doing his job as a journalist and was not a part of any violent and illegal political activity.
Tamerat’s case is being monitored by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the national human rights entity. Tamerat was brought back to court when the state of emergency that permits detention without charges expired. “Even if there was a legal basis for journalist Tamerat’s detention, the circumstances of his continued detention with a remand order just an hour before the 48 hours legal limit, symbolizes an abuse of power and naked travesty of justice”, said the chief commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Dr. Daniel Bekele. He added, “there is no reasonable ground for remand and no alleged journalistic offense should lead to any form of pre-trial detention, let alone such extended detention. The authorities should release him and all others arbitrarily detained, immediately and without precondition”.
Who is journalist Tamerat Negera?
Tamerat Negera is a journalist, a passionate analyst, and a popular commentator on Ethiopian politics. He started his professional career in 2002 as a radio journalist on the Hiyaw Tesfa Spiritual Radio Ministry (HITSRM), an affiliate of the International Bible Reading Association (IBRA). Later, he joined the former Addis Neger newspaper, where he worked as a journalist and Editor-in-Chief. Addis Neger was a very popular newspaper, especially among young readers, Tamerat was one of the 6 founding members who had a popular column “Political Memo” in the newspaper. Addis Neger which was an inspiring newspaper for many was established after the most contested election in 2005. The newspaper that brought hope as an alternative political conversation space, was shut down by state intimidation in 2009 before the general elections in 2010. Following this, Tamerat fled to the country where he spends the next 9 years in the United States.
Tamerat, exiled in the United States, never stopped from voicing his opinions about national integrity, equality, freedom of expression, and protection of human rights. After returning home following the reform within the ruling party led by prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s lifting of the criminalization against exiled opposition figures and journalists, he continued spreading his messages, at times through successful social media campaigns.
Tamerat had been encouraging a democratic and nonviolent political transition in Ethiopia in his journalistic works. After his return from exile, Tamerat co-founded the Terara Media Group. He is known for his aversion to ethnic nationalisms, ethnic federalism, and ethnic politics at large and eventually became a staunch critic, if not the leading figure of opposition to the current ethnic federalist arrangement of the country and its constitution. Ethnic federalism redesigned the country along ethnic lines following EPRDF’s ascent to power in 1991.
Tamerat argued that ethnic federalism has been a potential cause of the many catastrophes Ethiopia finds itself muddled in, namely: ethnic cleansings, identity-based mass killings, millions of internally forced displacements, military and arms races between the regional states, and the like. He unwaveringly argued that if a solution wasn’t found soon enough, Ethiopia would find itself in an unintended and unmanageable crisis that could potentially disintegrate it, like the former Yugoslavia. Ethiopia needs to rethink its ethnic federal arrangement, which remains a point in his different works and analysis.
In the last months before security forces took Tamerat from his residence after telling him that he was wanted for an inquiry, he was severely and publicly advising the government of Ethiopia to begin a national dialogue process in hopes to relay the people’s truths and realities. He was also engaged in posting live Facebook and YouTube analyses where he discussed the state of Ethiopia’s socio-economic and political situation, including the ongoing civil war in the northern part of the country.
An unwavering believer in freedom of speech and individual liberty, Tamerat has only been doing his individual role as a journalist to help contribute to Ethiopia’s transition to democracy. But he now finds himself in jail for more than three months without charges or trials.
On March 10, the Gelan Woreda court gave the prosecutors 15 more days to produce a lawsuit against Tamerat Negera. The court refused to grant him bail but accepted the police’ request that he be moved to the Daleti prison since the Oromia police commission claimed that they have now finished their investigations. But in reality, it appears it is far from over. It is in this light that his family and friends seek the international community’s support and voice to free him from jail unconditionally.
This article is prepared jointly by Tamerat Negera’s four colleagues with the supposition of shedding light on his detention and addressing the journalist’s current situation