Ethiopia, release Yassin Juma now
In October 2019, Kenyan journalist Yassin Juma bid his family farewell and set off to Somalia.
He had secured a job there and was going to earn good money to take care of his growing family. Before that job, he had to make do with various minor jobs and consultancies, which were not paying well enough to cover his family’s needs. As a journalist, he had worked with various media houses in Kenya, which made him a household name.
Little did Yassin know that his trip to Somalia and what will follow a few months later would land him in jail in a foreign land with no one to follow up on his matter.
In early July this year, Yassin’s wife, Aisha, became concerned when he sounded tense in his regular phone calls. He had travelled from his job in Somalia to Ethiopia, where he was looking for a better job.
According to Aisha, Yassin kept asking her to pray for him as he and a colleague were in a precarious situation. From July 3, the usual calls were no more. The family feared for the worst, imagining that maybe he might have been abducted or even worse – killed. With no way of communicating with him as his phone was off, the family did not know where to start.
As they kept looking for contacts, the family saw his arrest reported in one of the local television stations. They heard that Yassin had been arrested by the Ethiopian government together with some political opposition leaders. This was a few days after Yassin went silent.
The news item was both positive and negative to them. Positive in that at least they knew he was alive and whereabouts known and negative in that he was not free and well but incarcerated in a foreign country. Here they were, stranded as they had no contacts and no way of communicating with their head of the house.
Since his arrest, Yassin was held for weeks before he was taken to court. Ethiopian laws allow for prolonged incarceration before charging in court. When finally he was arraigned, the police requested for more time to complete investigations. The courts granted them more time.
When he was again brought back to court, there was no substantive evidence to charge him but the police again objected the release. This time, the courts ordered his release on a bail of $85 (Sh8,500). The State appealed the decision but the higher court upheld the decision by the lower court to release Yassin on bail.
Information reaching the family is that the bail has been paid but the release has no yet been processed. Haki Africa is one of the organisations that has been working closely with the family to understand what is happening and offer support.
Two weeks ago, Haki Africa wrote to Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo to bring the matter to her attention and to call on her to take appropriate action. There were reports that the Ministry had began following up on the matter.
Back home, Yassin left his wife with their seven children. Besides the seven, he had also taken up two other orphans under his care. With his mother also living with him, Yassin has nine children, his wife and mum who are totally dependent on him.
With him now behind bars, the family is left destitute without their sole breadwinner. They have resorted to well wishers to support their daily upkeep. With the current difficult economic times, there aren’t many with the ability to support. The family is suffering and needs quick but urgent financial support.
What is clear is that Yassin was arrested while on the job as a journalist. Media freedom is an internationally recognised human right. The Ethiopian government must do justice and release the journalist to his family, especially if there is no evidence of his wrong doing under the law.
Media freedom must be respected at all times and by all governments. Release Yassin Juma now.
By Hussein Khalid