Supporters of the founder of the Oromia Media Network have gathered outside his house in Ethiopia‘s capital, Addis Ababa, hours after he said police had surrounded his residence following a warning by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed against media owners “fomenting unrest”.
Footage posted on social media showed hundreds of young men from the Oromo ethnic group joining Wednesday’s gathering outside Jawar Mohammed’s home, chanting slogans such as “Stand down Abiy”. Some two dozen police officers stood nearby, according to a witness cited by Reuters news agency.
Demonstrations spread to other cities in Oromia, the region that was the centre of protests that brought Abiy – the diverse country’s first Oromo leader – to power last year, residents told Reuters news agency.
In Adama, 90km (56 miles) southeast of the capital, two residents told Reuters that they heard gunshots amid protests in support of Jawar there on Wednesday afternoon. It was not immediately clear who fired the shots.
— Robyn Lee Kriel (@robynkriel1) October 23, 2019
In a Facebook post, Jawar said police had surrounded his house late on Tuesday and ordered his bodyguards to leave. He added that he did not know who had ordered the deployment of the security officers.
“If they [authorities] want to arrest they could just summon me,” Jawar said. “Now it appears the plan was not to arrest me. The plan was to remove my security and unleash civilian attackers and claim it was a mob attack.”
But state media on Wednesday quoted Endeshaw Tassew, commissioner general of the federal police commission, as saying in a statement that no measure had been taken against Jawar either by the government or the police.
Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Abiy had earlier warned unnamed media owners against stirring up unrest.
“Those media owners who don’t have Ethiopian passports are playing both ways,” said the prime minister, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 11.
“When there is peace you are playing here, and when we are in trouble you not here.
“We tried to be patient. But if this is going to undermine the peace and existence of Ethiopia … we will take measures. You can’t play both ways.”
Jawar, who was born in Ethiopia but holds a US passport, founded the Oromia Media Network, an independent television channel and news website.
He has 1.75 million Facebook followers. From 2016 to 2018, he used social media to organise strikes and protests that piled pressure on the government and led to the resignation of Abiy’s predecessor in February 2018.
Jawar and the prime minister are both Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. Many young Oromo men consider Jawar a hero who brought the political change they fought for.
Jawar, who promotes non-violent activism and an “Oromo first” ideology, returned to Ethiopia from the US last year after Abiy come to power.
The young men outside Jawar’s house call themselves “Qeerroo”, an Oromo term meaning “bachelor” adopted by politically active young men.
One Jawar supporter, 27-year-old student Terefe Waltaji, said he had seen Jawar’s post on Facebook reporting that his house was surrounded.
“I called three of my friends and came running,” Terefe told Reuters. “I am angry at the government … Abiy is letting down the Oromo people and Qeerros who brought him to this stage. If Jawar is in trouble, all of us Oromos are in trouble.”
Abiy came to power in April 2018 and began introducing sweeping political and economic reforms.
Those moves have opened up what was once one of Africa’s most repressive nations, but also stoked violence along ethnic lines.