In exposing Ethiopia’s ongoing media blockade in the volatile Somali-inhabited oil region, anchor Hassan Abdillahi Omar “Karate” of Ogaal Radio, 88.9FM told a massive gathering of delegates attending the 2012 Annual Ogaden Diaspora Communities Convention at the Days Inn Hotel, Toronto, that “the Ogaden region is technically under Ethiopian-enforced media blockade due to ongoing media censorship, persecution of journalists, the arrest, mistreatment and detention of journalists; both local and foreign ones, as well as existing draconian laws aimed at muzzling free press.”
Hassan ”Karate” lambasted Ethiopia’s new Anti-Terrorism Bill proclaimed in 2009 and effectively used as a restrictive tool to curtail freedom of press and political dissent.
“To date, Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Law is considered the most draconian legislation in Africa aimed at crushing legitimate political dissent and freedom of press. This law has serious implications for freedom of speech in the Ogaden region as local journalists are at risk of being detained for indefinite periods while many face torture and other forms of mistreatment in prison.” adding that “journalists also increasingly face the risk of assassination at the hands of the Ethiopian security forces that have been brutally cracking down on free press in the region.”
The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) has been leading an insurgency in the Somali region and has effectively disrupted oil production in Chinese oilfields in the east. In July 2011, the Ethiopian army shot and then detained Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, two Swedish journalists who went to Ogaden in order to investigate and report on the role of Sweden’s Lundin Oil in the gross human rights abuses committed by the Ethiopian Army against the civilian population.
On December 27, 2011, Schibbye and Persson were sentenced to 11 years in prison for entering the country illegally and supporting what the Ethiopian regime calls “terrorism” after they traveled with the ONLF fighters. International observers note that it is a common practice for foreign journalists to cross borders when entering conflict zones.
Calling for the journalists’ immediate release, Hassan "Karate,” a recipient of the prestigious National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada (NEPMCC) award, noted that “the people of Ogaden, rights groups and members of the world media as well as progressive governments consider the two Swedish journalists as prisoners of conscience, who were imprisoned because of their belief in free expression and pursuit of the truth.”
Hassan “Karate’s” view echo those of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House (IFEX), which maintains the journalists were simply doing their job, and were embedded with the rebels so they could report on the region and on the activities of the Swedish oil firm with interests there.
“The harsh and unprecedented treatment of Mr. Schibbye and Mr. Persson is intended to dissuade any more attempt by the international and local press to ever again attempt to report in a free and independent manner in Ogaden. The Ethiopian government has destroyed long ago all free media in Ogaden, and is now dismantling the few remaining free press in the rest of Ethiopia” said Hassan Karate.
Stating that the state of media in Ethiopia is a dire one, Hassan “Karate” informed the convention that citizens in Ogaden are unable to speak freely, organize political activities, and challenge Ethiopia’s military occupation through peaceful protests.
“In this region, the media is heavily restricted and the main source of information is the state owned television and radio, which serve as a mouthpiece of propaganda for Zenawi’s EPRDF regime. The few private media that exist are not only heavily censored, but are mostly co-opted and intimidated by the regime as they are prevented from reporting on the brutal occupation by the Ethiopian forces.” said Hassan “Karate.”
According to Hassan “Karate” the systemic muzzling of the press is aimed at concealing from world attention, the regime’s excesses in the Somali region. The Ogaal Radio anchor noted that the day to day atrocities in Ogaden the Zenawi government is trying to hide from world attention include:
Mass murder, rape, plunder and the razing of villages and towns
Forced disappearances and deportations
Arbitrary arrests and detention
Extra Judicial killings
Widespread torture and ill treatment
Hassan “Karate” called upon western governments that hold leverage over Ethiopia to act swiftly to end the media blockade in the affected region .
“The US and Canadian governments as well as member countries in the European Union that provide Ethiopia with significant aid, need to be pressured to force Addis Ababa to lift its media blockade in Ogaden. Ethiopia must allow foreign media unhindered access to the region and should immediately remove all the restrictions imposed on local media” stated Hassan “Karate.”
The award-winning anchor called for further action saying that “world leaders should demand the immediate and unconditional release of all Ogadeni and Ethiopian journalists as well as foreign journalists illegally held in Ethiopian jails and allow them to do their professional work.”
Hassan “Karate” pledged that Ogaal Radio will continue to do what it does best; provide a progressive voice for the ongoing struggle in the region.
“To the long suffering people of Ogaden and our equally suffering brothers and sisters in Somalia, please rest assured that Ogaal Radio will steadfastly remain a voice for the struggle, in the quest for freedom throughout the Somali Peninsula.” said Hassan “Karate.”
The convention featured other notable speakers including Kerstin Lundell, the Swedish investigative journalist following the path of oil in Ogaden, documenting the activities of oil corporations such as Sweden’s Lundin and Canada’s Africa Oil linked to human rights violations in the oil rich region.
Another key speaker, Mike Sullivan, the Federal MP for York South-Weston, decried Canada’s dubious record of paying a blind eye to rights abuses in Africa. He promised to take up Ogadeni grievances to the Federal government stating that the Federal NDP will fight to ensure “the moral campus points to the right direction.”
The Convention concludes Saturday evening with an eagerly anticipated theatrical play featuring Somali artists from across Europe and North America.