News: Security forces suspend community radio station in Sodo; shut down local civil society org. office

Yesterday’s release on bail of 19 people, including Dagato Kumbe, Wolaita Zone administrator,
and Muluneh Woldetsadik, deputy president of the Wolaita Zone high court, was greeting with euphoria

By Medihane Ekubamichael

Addis Abeba, August 14/2020 – Wogeta FM 96.6, a renowned community radio station based in Sodo city, the capital of Wolaita zone in SNNPRS, was ordered to cease broadcasting as of this morning by members of the federal security forces. Journalists working for the station were also prevented to accessing the studio, Mesfin Heliso, manager of the station, told Addis Standard.

According to Mesfin, Wogeta FM is a reputable radio station considered as the voice of the Wolaita community and operates abiding by the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority’s regulations. “We have been ordered to cease broadcasting and evacuate the premises and stay away from the vicinity without getting any further detail on who ordered the closure and why,” he said.

Wolaita zone was a scene of six days sustained protests which started on Sunday August 09 when members of the federal police and the federal army detained at least 26 people, including Dagato Kumbe, Wolaita Zone administrator, and Muluneh Woldetsadik, deputy president of the Wolaita Zone high court, during a meeting they were attending inside the city’s Gutera conference hall. The arrested officials also include members of the council for Wolaita statehood request and opposition party members from Wolaita National Movement (WNM), representatives of civil society organizations and activists.

According to Mesfin, the station, being a nearby voice of the community, has aired an interview with Dagato Kumbe, who assured the community after the detainees including himself were released on bail by Wolaita Zone high court late yesterday.

Fekadu Dana, a journalist at the radio station, also told Addis Standard that “around 7:00 am [this morning] six staff of the station including myself were at our post to prepare the daily news that runs at 8:30 am. Armed member of the military came to our station at the Gutera hall compound and gave us a firm order to shut everything and leave the area immediately,“ he added: “We then left and sat in a cafe inside Nega International Hotel for most part of the day while members of the military were monitoring us from the entrance,” Fikadu said. He added that they were afraid of being arrested if they left so they stayed inside while security forces kept monitoring the area.    

In addition to Mesfin, other staffs who stayed on the scene include Ashenafi Admasu, Program head and management member, Tsega Timotewos Journalist, Netsanet Ataro, technical head and management member, and Motolomi Timotiwos, marketing and promotion head and management member. They were all prevented from getting in to the radio station to work at their posts.

Late this afternoon protesters started gathering near the hotel when the news spread that the journalists and their colleagues were holed up inside the hotel. Subsequently, members of the security left the scene, allowing the journalists and their colleagues to leave for their homes safe.

Members of the Wogeta FM 96.6 station suspended from their post. From left Netsanet Ataro, Motolomi Timotiwos, Ashenafi Admasu and Tsega Timotewos

Wogeta FM 96.6 station started streaming on December 11, 2017 with a license registered by the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority (EBA). The station is known for its local language contents serving the Wolaita community, who are not a focus of Ethiopia’s legacy media establishment.

Yeshiworq Girma, head of Media Follow-up Directorate at the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) said that the Authority was informed about the situation and were looking at it through the complaint procedure; they are yet to find out the details, according to Yeshiwork.

Wogeta FM served as the prime source of information during the protest in the last six days when internet data was disconnected. It has reported its news from the areas where protests were happening and about the nature of heavy-handed response from the federal and regional security forces.

In a report it released today, Amnesty International says at least 16 people were killed by security forces, including “a boy who was homeless and a woman with a mental disability, neither of whom were participating in the protests. No one should be killed for exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly or for being around a protest,” Amnesty said.

“The authorities must urgently stop the use of lethal force in the context of protests and thoroughly, effectively and impartially investigate these killings. All those found responsible must be brought to justice in fair trials. Victims and their families must also have access to adequate reparations,” Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, said.  

Local civil society organization office closed

The establishment of Wogeta FM is largely attributed to the support provided by Wolaita Development Association (WDA), which coordinated the community’s support for the establishment of the radio station, which currently has 36 permanent and freelance journalists and support staff members.

WDA’s office itself has been shut down as of yesterday evening by armed members the federal security forces, according to Tamirat Matiwos, WDA vice chairperson. Tamirat told Addis Standard that the association was known for its engagement in local development works in areas of capacity building, sustainable living condition improvement and integrated public health services since its establishment on June 20, 1957 by prominent Wolaita native, Dejach Woldesemayat Gebrewold. In recognition Dejach Woldesemayat was bestowed with honorary doctorate degree by Wolaita Sodo University (WSU) in recent past. It is not clear who ordered the members of the federal security forces to close WDA’s office and deny its staffs from accessing the premises.

Led by Habtamu Timotios, WDA is also known for establishing Wolaita Liqa School, a recognized community model school among the community. Habtamu is an advocate of Wolaita zone’s request for self determination and regional state status. As such, he was one of the detainees who were arrested on 9th August.

Addis Standard’s repeated attempts to speak to Tessema Utula, Wolaita zone peace and security bureau head, were unsuccessful after he declined to speak to the media on both issues. AS

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