Yassin Juma’s detention exposes Kenya-Ethiopia concealed hostility

Yassin Juma when he was freed by Kenyan Embassy in Ethiopia / MFA

The incarceration of Collins Osemo alias Yassin Juma without charge by Ethiopian authorities has once again brought to the fore the differences between Kenya and Ethiopia.

Despite close relations between the countries and the founding fathers Jomo Kenyatta and Haile Selassie which saw Ethiopia get land next to State House to establish its embassy, recent cases have lifted the lid on the dishonesty in the relations, especially from the Ethiopia side.

This was laid bare by MP Moses Kuria, who represents President Uhuru Kenyatta’s constituency of Gatundu South in Kiambu county.

The legislator called for severing of diplomatic relations with Ethiopia following the arrest and detention of journalist Juma.

He said Ethiopia is Kenya’s enemy but continues to pretend to be a friend.

“Dear CS Raychelle Omamo. Tomorrow recall Ambassador to AU and Addis Ababa Catherine Mwangi-Muigai back home. And send the Ethiopian ambassador back to Addis. The continued incarceration of journalist Yassin Juma cannot be done by an Ethiopia which pretends to be our friend. Ethiopia is our enemy,” Kuria posted on his Facebook Page on August 20.

And while MP Kuria’s comments might be personal, Kenya made an official protest against the continued detention of Juma, despite the courts in Ethiopia releasing him on bail.

Not once but twice.

Ethiopia on Tuesday finally released Juma after days of protest by Kenya and the media fraternity.

He was first arrested on July 3 in the house of prominent Ethiopian media mogul Jawar Mohammed. With other journalists and several politicians, they were accused of crimes related to subverting authority.

Until Tuesday, Juma, a father of seven, had been detained illegally for 50 days. No charges were pressed. During that time, he contracted coronavirus.

Ethiopia Attorney General released Yassin, saying he was wrongfully arrested due to language barrier.

“According to the Office of the Attorney General, Juma was detained wrongfully because of language barrier,” his lawyer, Abdulletif Amee, said.

Yassin Juma: Ethiopia succumbs to pressure by Kenya, media and activists to free journalist

The first protest by Kenya against his incarceration was on August 10.

In a protest note, Kenya’s Ambassador to Ethiopia Catherine Mwangi said the continued detention, in spite of the court order, was distressing Yassin’s family at home.

“The embassy notes with concern that he has still not been released and that this is causing him and his family a lot of distress,” Ambassador Mwangi wrote to the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry.

This was followed by yet another letter to the Ministry on August 12, calling for his immediate release.

Kenya termed his continued detention as a violation of his rights to justice. Kenya further said Ethiopian authorities should have freed him on August 5 as ordered by a court after he deposited bail of $85 as bail terms.

“The Ministry is deeply concerned that despite the decision of the court, Mr Osemo is still in police custody,” Kenya said,

“The continued detention of this Kenyan national, despite the decision of the court and payment of bail, is highly regrettable and has caused immense anguish and anxiety to him, his family, the people and the government of the Republic of Kenya.”

Soon after he was released, the Embassy in Ethiopia managed to assist Juma to move to a government isolation facility after he tested positive to Covid-19 at Sostegna police station, where he was held.

In his words, he was detained with 68 other Covid-19 positive inmates with no access to medication in overcrowded cells, no running water and no diet to assist them with their condition. This is against WHO guidelines; whose director general is an Ethiopian – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya Alem Meles has refused to comment on the detention, despite various attempts by media houses in Kenya.

Yassin Juma still detained in Ethiopia despite court order to release him on bail

In May, Ethiopia admitted to shooting down a Kenyan plane carrying humanitarian and medical supplies in Somalia, killing all six people onboard.

In a statement to the African Union, the Ethiopian military said they interpreted the plane’s “unusual flight” as a “potential suicide mission,” adding the crew did not inform authorities of any aircraft flying to the country.

Kenya expressed shock over the incident, saying the plane’s mission had been to aid Somalia in tackling Covid-19 pandemic.

In March this year, tension gripped Moyale town after gunmen, whom locals claimed are Ethiopian soldiers, crossed the border and killed five Kenyans at Sessi, on the Kenya-Ethiopia border.

The gunmen broke into houses in the night and opened fire on the men, accusing them of harbouring Ethiopian rebels.

The attack came hours after Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde paid President Uhuru Kenyatta a courtesy call at State House, Nairobi.

The following month in April, the Moyale border was again rocked by gunfire between the Kenya Defence Forces and the Tabaqa militia from Ethiopia.

The fighting led to closure of business as residents scampered for safety. The early morning fight came after KDF started digging trenches to prevent illegal crossing and smuggling.

In August last year, five people were killed and another four seriously injured in a gun attack by suspected Ethiopia militia in Forole location, North Horr subcounty.

In 2018, Human Rights Watch reported that Ethiopia’s military has often punished civilians in and around Moyale on both sides of the border for alleged support of Oromo Liberation Front fighters.

“When the group attacked military targets inside of Ethiopia in 2015, Ethiopia’s response was to unilaterally move its soldiers into Kenyan territory on no fewer than five occasions.”

“Kenyan communities near the border told Human Rights Watch at the time that the Ethiopian military harassed and beat citizens, and eventually marched at least four Kenyan citizens to detention in Ethiopia. In the process the Ethiopian military killed three Kenyan police officers. This was all because the military believed these Kenyan communities supported the banned opposition group,” the Human Rights Watch report said.

The human rights agency thus recommended that Kenya can and should take the lead within the East African community in encouraging Ethiopia to embark on key domestic reforms that would prevent further abuses – including allowing political parties to operate freely and media and nongovernmental groups to operate independently.

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