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News: OLF political officer, French journalist detained over alleged ‘conspiracy with armed groups’

Bate Urgessa (left), a political officer with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and French journalist Antoine Galindo (Photo: Social Media & CPJ)

Addis Abeba – Bettee Urgessa, a political officer with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and French journalist Antoine Galindo were detained on 22 February, 2024, by security forces in Addis Abeba.

Lemi Gemechu, the spokesperson for the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), verified to Addis Standard that Bettee was arrested on the afternoon of the preceding Thursday following his participation in a meeting of the joint council of political parties in Addis Abeba, held at the Sky Light Hotel.

“After our mutual attendance at the meeting and subsequent parting, he conveyed to me via a voice message his detention. Subsequently, he disappeared, and a few days later, we discovered he was being detained at the Bole sub-city police station,” Lemi declared.”

“Additionally, the spokesperson emphasized that Bettee has not made an appearance in court thus far.

Conversely, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed that Galindo, a journalist working for Indigo Publications, was detained by security forces alongside Bate while conducting an interview.

In a statement released on 26 February, 2024, the CPJ reported that Galindo’s legal representative informed the organization that the pair were initially brought to the Bole-Rwanda police station and subsequently transferred to the Bole Sub-City Police Department, where they are currently detained.

On Saturday, Galindo was presented before the Addis Abeba City Administration Bole Division Court on accusations of “conspiring with two armed groups, the OLA-Shene and the Fano militia, to incite unrest in the capital,” as reported by the CPJ.

During the court proceedings, Galindo sought release on bail; however, the police asserted the necessity of retaining custody to identify other potentially implicated individuals and to examine his phone records, as conveyed by his legal representative present in court.

The court granted permission for the police to detain Galindo further until the next hearing scheduled for March 1, 2024.

“Despite the grave accusations, the police have not yet presented substantial evidence or officially charged Galindo, as conveyed by his legal counsel to CPJ.

Indigo Publications stated that Galindo possessed valid journalist credentials, was in Ethiopia to cover the recently held African Union summit and other news events, and had duly informed the Ethiopian Media Authority of his journalistic assignment. The company characterized the allegations against Galindo as “baseless and lacking in merit.”

“The baseless detention of Galindo for carrying out legitimate journalistic duties is outrageous, and Ethiopian authorities must release him immediately without condition,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program head. Ethiopia has been designated as the third-worst country in Africa for incarcerating journalists in 2023, next only to Eritrea and Egypt, according to CPJ’s report.

OLF’s Bettee has pent years in and out of detentions over several occasions. Most recently, he had encountered a serious heath issue while in police custody as one of the dozen jailed leaders of the OLF including Mikael Boren, Kenessa Ayana, Dawit Abdeta, Lemi Begna, Geda Gabisa, who remained in Oromia police custody long after they were freed by a federal court. AS

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