Ethiopia on Tuesday finally released Kenyan journalist Yassin Juma after days of protest by Kenya and the media fraternity.
Until Tuesday, Juma, a father of seven, had been detained for 50 days despite courts in Ethiopia releasing him on bail. No charges had been pressed. During that time, Yassin 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, told the Nation.
Notably, Yassin was arrested twice, the second being after being released by the court.
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.
Amee, however, questioned the reason the State gave for the wrongful detention.
“Is it convincing enough to say he was detained because of misunderstanding? Is that a tactic to escape from liability?” Abdulletif posed.
The release comes after the trial against him and nine others resumed Tuesday morning. It was the fifth arraignment but he would not appear as he was in quarantine.
Kenya on August 10 protested Ethiopia’s continued detention of Yassin.
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 another letter to the Ministry on August 12, calling for immediate release of Yassin.
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 [Collins] Osemo (his real name) 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.”
Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa, representing over 450 journalists working with international media in the region, has also been calling for Yassin’s release under the hashtag #freeyassinjuma #JournalismIsNotACrime
International Press Institute, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, among other media outlets and activists, have also been pushing for the release of Yassin.