Ethiopia: Popular protest singer imprisoned



Popular protest singer imprisoned

On 16 April 2008 the Ethiopian reggae singer Teddy Afro was suddenly arrested and charged with causing the death of a young man in a hit-and-run traffic accident in November 2006. ‘Why Teddy Afro and why now?’ his fans ask.

Teddy Afro’s song ‘Jah Yasteseryal’ (which translates to ‘Redemption’ or ‘It heals’ in reference to the divine) became a popular anthem of anti-government protesters during the unrest that followed the disputed 2005 parliamentary elections in the country. His song lyrics are perceived to be criticising a long line of Ethiopian leaders – including the current prime minister Meles Zenawi – and it has been banned on the state controlled radio FM Addis.

When Degu Yibelte, a homeless 18-year-old, was killed by a car in the centre of Addis Ababa in November 2006, police officers reportedly claimed that Teddy Afro’s BMW had been spotted at the scene by a taxi driver. Teddy Afro was called in for questioning by the police, but at the time no charges were raised.

Then in April 2008, one and a half years after the incident, Teddy Afro was suddenly arrested, charged and remanded in custody. The Ethiopian media described how his fans on 21 April staged protests outside the court room where a judge decided to postpone a bail hearing. Arefe who runs the blog ‘Addis Journal’ wrote:

“…Hundreds of cheering and chanting fans had greeted Teddy’s arrival. Wearing a T-shirt and sunglasses, Teddy waved as he slowly made his way into the courthouse. As he left the court, the ‘free him’ shout became more intense and police surrounded and arrested some of them. A journalist for Hamrawai magazine and another newspaper reporter were among the arrested. It’s unclear why police arrested them. It was said they are all detained in the police station in front of the court…”

The arrest of the 31-year-old singer generated much interest and anxiety in the capital city, and Teddy Afro‘s songs are reported to enjoy sudden new popularity in bars, taxis and public places.

Refused bail
On 29 April 2008 Teddy Afro was refused bail by the Federal High Court. He is presently held in prison to return to court on 21 May. During the singer’s court appearance on 29 April the weekly newspaper Negadras reported that 20 fans had been detained. They were denied appeal for bail when they appeared before the Addis Ababa City First Instance Court the day after.

Among the charges brought upon them are wearing T-shirts with the singer’s picture, provoking a riot and distributing ‘unnecessary’ leaflets. The detained fans are to appear before the court to face the charges on 13 and 14 May 2008.

Teddy Afro

His real name is Tewodros Kassahun


Bloggers: ‘Teddy Afro was framed’
Ethiopian bloggers commented that locking up Teddy Afro is an attempt to silence a musician who poses a threat to the regime. Many writers seemed convinced that Teddy Afro was framed by the Ethiopian authorities who, they said, resented the singer’s huge popularity and veiled anti-government lyrics.

The Debteraw Blog mentioned Teddy Afro in a list of political prisoners. Another blogger called him a prisoner of conscience.

“The regime’s timing of this theater is to divert us from the current boycotted local election and the indiscriminate killing of more than hundreds innocent Somalis last week in Mogadishu, “ wrote the Ethiopian blogger Tedla Asfaw.

Story about the trial censored
A censorship incident which followed on 2 May 2008 indicates that the Ethiopean authorities are concerned with Teddy Afro’s case: a magazine with a cover story about the trial and imprisonment of Teddy Afro was seized and its publisher and deputy editor of the magazine, Alemayehu Mahtemework, as well as three support staff were themselves jailed, reported the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA).

The monthly entertainment magazine Enku was impounded by police allegedly after receiving a tip from an informant at the printer that the cover story about the imprisonment of Teddy Afro could lead to ‘incitement’.

Ten thousand copies of the magazine were impounded by police on 2 May, the day before it was due to hit the newsstands.

“He has a moral presence unlike any Ethiopian singer we have heard. Teddy Afro might just turn to be the break-through artist East Africa has been waiting for. A Bob Marley for a new time…”
Banning Eyre, NPR Music

“Teddy is the symbol of Ethiopian new and future generation. He is a bridge for the past, present and future. He is an idol for young generation. Let us bring Teddy to daylight before he disappears forever.”
Easi, the Ethiopian Students Association International

Journalists intimidated
15 Ethiopian journalists were jailed on trumped-up anti-state charges last year in connection with a brutal 2005 media crackdown. They have since been released, but according to several human rights and press freedom organisations, Ethiopian authorities have not relented in their long-standing pattern of repression of independent media through intimidation and arrests.


Listen to Teddy Afro’s controversial hit song ‘Yasteseryal’ in this radio report by Banning Eyre, NPR Music:

‘Teddy Afro, the New Reggae God of Ethiopia’


Google News – continously updated:

Search: ‘Teddy Afro’ + ‘Ethiopian’

Committee to Protect Journalists – 5 May 2008:

‘Ethiopian police detain editor, impound magazine over pop icon story’

International Freedom of Expression Exchange, IFEX – 5 May 2008:

‘Magazine issue seized, its editor and others imprisoned’

Addis Journal – 2 May 2008:

‘Teddy Afro fans to face charges’

African Path – 24 April 2008:

‘Ethiopia: Why Teddy Afro and why now?’

Addis Journal – 23 April 2008:

‘Court adjourns Teddy’s hearing’ – 20 April 2008:

‘Ethiopia – Teddy Afro – An Ethiopian Hero & a Prisoner of Conscience’

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