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Analysis: As Oromia police seek to indict journalist Tamerat with eight charges, court remands him for 14 more days

Tamerat Negera. Pictures: Screengrab/AS

By MahletFasil @MahletFasil

Addis Abeba – On 24 February judges at Gelan district court of the Oromia special zone surrounding Finfinne granted Oromia police 14 more days to continue remanding journalist Tamerat Negera, the editor in chief of the online media Terara Network. The court’s decision came in the backdrop of two pages charge sheet submitted by the Oromia police containing list of accusations the police wanted to indict Tamerat with.

Oromia Police requested the additional days for investigation citing eight violations they said Tamerat has allegedly committed through media broadcast on the Terara Media Group’s YouTube channel.

According to court documents reviewed by Addis Standard, the alleged violations include “promoting the disintegration of Oromo unity, which is part of the country,” and “Calling Oromia regional government president Shimelis by name and spreading false information and hate on the regional administration officials.”

The court document alleges that Tamerat was “spreading information that advanced the benefit of TPLF during the year-long war”, and adds that he was broadcasting “disinformation about the progress of the war”” and was “defaming the prime minister by saying, “He is intentionally working in a manner that defames and descends the country to a lower standard.” The police claims that there were violations which are equivalent to the war destruction TPLF and OLA inflicted.

In the court document also accuse Tamerat of violating the state of emergency on November 2, 2021 by encouraging and providing information to the TPLF that facilitated a means for it to achieve its goal in terrorizing the society.

The other accusation against Tamerat is the allegation of hate speech against nations and nationalities of Ethiopia. According to the police, Tamerat called the nation and nationalities “Getet ‘‘ an Amharic term which loosely translates to ‘dead weight’. The police claimed that these violations can cause the dismantlement of the constitution and incitement of conflict and terrorism.

Gemmechu Gulma, the lawyer of Tamrat Negera, told Addis Standard that the police requested 14 more days to complete its investigation on these allegations. Oromia Police told the court that it had sent 32 electronic belongings of the journalist to an investigative team and was still waiting for the results. The court has therefore granted the 14 more days for further investigation.

“The alleged crimes were in relation to the media. The Ethiopian Media Proclamation stipulates that the prosecution will file charges after the suspect has been arrested under the Criminal Procedure Code and we object to the police’s request,” Gemmechu said. The police also told the court that they were investigating a crime committed that did not have any connection with the media and accused the journalist of being in communication with OLA/ Shane (a term used by the government to describe Oromo Liberation Army), and TPLF, accusations that had not been filed by the police during the previous court appearance.

The defense team further argued that the court had no jurisdiction to adjourn a date for the police to investigate and prosecute their client on terrorism charges as such cases should fall under Federal Police and Federal Court jurisdiction. His client’s detention in jail for more than two months was long enough to file charges, if there were any, and the right to a bail hearing. However, the court rejected their objection and granted the police the additional 14 days for further investigation.

Terara Network Editor-in-Chief Tamrat Negera was taken from his home by the police on December 10, 2021. “Journalist Tamrat was told he was wanted for questioning and was taken from his residence around 10: 30 AM this morning,” his wife Selam Belay told Addis Standard. “He was told that he was needed for questioning and then taken to the police station,” Selam said.

Journalist Tamrat was taken to the Addis Abeba Police Commission’s Sostegna Police Station. The police have provided no explanation so far as to why Tamerat has been arrested, according to his wife.

On December 30, 2021, the Gelan district court in the Oromia special zone surrounding Finfinne decided to transfer the case of Tamrat Negera to the state of emergency command post. The police told the court that it no longer needed additional time to investigate Tamrat and closed the file, prompting the court to transfer the case to the command post.

The next hearing is adjourned until March 10, 2022. AS

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