Jawar Mohammed, political analyst and executive director of the Oromia Media Network (OMN), believes the Ethiopian government would kill him, should he return to his homeland.
Mohammed,30, is an ethnic Oromo. He grew up in Dhummuga, a small town located in Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest state. During his childhood, Mohammed went to school in Asela and Adama and left his homeland in 2003 on a schoolarship to study in Singapore.
He later moved to the US to study political science at Stanford University and Human Rights at the Columbia.
“I came here as a student, not as a refugee. But right now, I am probably the most wanted person by the Ethiopian government and I think the government is willing to kill me if they have a chance,” Mohammed, who is based in Minneapolis, alleged during a phone interview with IBTimes UK.
“Every time I appear on television, for the last few months, the government is all over the place condemning me and calling me a terrorist, an agitator and an enemy of the state.”
Oromo people ‘are making history’
In October, Ethiopia declared a six-month-long state of emergency following unrest in Oromia, and occasionally in Amhara.
The response to the protests, labelled as the biggest anti-government unrest Ethiopia has witnessed in recent history, has resulted in the death of more than 500 people since November 2015, a figure the government later confirmed.
In Oromia, people demonstrated against perceived disenfranchisement and lack of inclusion in the political process as the government is dominated by the Tigray minority. They also called for an end to land grabbing, claiming Oromo farmers are forcibly evicted from their farms.
Mohammed is a strong supporter of the protests as he believes Ethiopia “needs a regime change and the installation of a government elected by the people.”
“Oromo people are making history, they have been fighting for freedom, dignity and self-determination for almost 50 years now. In the last couple of years they struggled intensified, has become more strategic, coordinated and unified, it has weakened the government and has inspired other people in Ethiopia and the region,” he said.
Under the state of emergency, Ethiopia banned certain media outlets, including OMN.
“The government believes OMN and social media, Facebook particularly, are used to mobilise, agitate, coordinate people. The government sees this as a way to undermine their control over the population,” Mohammed claimed.
Mohammed believes it is too dangerous for him to go to Ethiopia right now. However, he said he is planning to return. “Going back is not an potion at the moment, but in the future, I will return and fight with my people.”
When contacted by IBTimes UK for comments on the allegations, a spokesperson for the Ethiopian embassy in London dismissed Mohammed’s claims as “unsubstantiated information”.
The diplomat also alleged Mohammed and other members of the diaspora community could have links to the Oromo Liberation Front, which the Ethiopian government labelled as a terrorist organisation that carried out violent acts in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.
Created in 1973,OLF stemmed from the discontent among people over a perceived marginalisation by the government and to fight the hegemony of the Amhara people.
OLF – still active today – calls for the self-determination of the Oromo people. The group has always denied allegations of violence , claiming its mission is to terminate “a century of oppression” against the Oromos.