Mahlet Fasil @MahletFasil
Addis Abeba, April 21/2020 – Federal prosecutors have today charged journalist Yayesew Shimelis with Ethiopia’s newly enacted Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation at the federal high court Lideta branch.
Yayesew was charged despite having been allowed to leave police custody on bail on two occasions. On April 15 the Federal First Instance Court Arada branch granted a 25, 000 birr bail to Yayesew Shimelis, journalist and producer of Tigray TV Ethio-Forum YouTube segment. However on the same afternoon Addis Abeba Police Commission appealed against the court’s decision at the Federal Appellant Court in Lideta.
The same court has overruled the Police’s appeal and upheld the Arada Court’s decision to release Yayesew on bail. On April 16, things took a fresh twist when the Federal Police saed they suspect Yayesew with terrorism-related offenses & submitted a fresh remand request at Federal High Court Lideta. At a hearing held On April 20 the court granted Journalist Yayesew yet another bail, this time 30, 000 birr, after the judges overruled the federal police’s intent to indict Yayesew with terrorism related offenses. His lawyer Tadelle G/Medhin told Addis Standard that the judges ruled that the police’s accusations against Yayesew that he was attempting to incite violence by spreading false information didn’t qualify to indict him with terrorism offenses, therefore allowing him the right leave police custody on bail.
However, Yayesew remained in police custody despite the bail.
Today, instead of releasing him on bail as was ruled by the federal high court, the police took Yayesew to reappear in the court, where prosecutors pressed the charges against him, Tadelle said.
In a statement the Federal Attorney General office said that Yayesew was charged for contravening the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation 1185/2012 Article 5 and 7/4. He is not charged with terrorism related offenses as was initially sought by the police.
Article 5 of the proclamation says “Prohibition of Disseminating Disinformation Disseminating of any disinformation on public meeting by means of broadcasting, print or social media using text, image, audio or video is a prohibited act.”
Article 7 under “Criminal Liability” sub article 4 states that: “If the offense of hate speech or disinformation offense has been committed through a social media account having more than 5,000 followers or through a broadcast service or print media, the person responsible for the act shall be punished with simple imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine not exceeding 100,000 birr. ”
The statement from the Attorney General’s office further said that Yayesew was charged for deliberately disseminating a false information recklessly and without an attempt to verify the authenticity of the information and without taking into consideration the prevailing circumstances.
By this, the AG’s office is alluding to a March 26/2020 Facebook post Yayesew posted in his personal Facebook page that in anticipation of the danger COVID-19 poses in Ethiopia, the government has ordered the readying of 200, 000 burial places. Yayesew’s Facebook page was suspended shortly after he posted the message to his hundreds of thousands of followers. On the same day Yayesew issued an apology on his twitter page. “My Facebook page is closed; I didn’t know what I said could be alarming at this scale. I apologize for everything,” he said. He was detained the next day.
Yayesew became the first journalist in Ethiopia to be indicted by the new law that several rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, said would threaten free speech. AS