Senators call for release of Minnesota detainees in Ethiopia amid unrest

Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith are calling for the release of two Minnesota men, Misha Chiri (left) and Jawar Mohammed (right), detained in Ethiopia amid the unrest.

As the unrest in Ethiopia continues, both Minnesota senators are sending a joint letter to the U.S. Department of State in an effort to help free two Minnesotans detained there.

The two friends went to Ethiopia a couple years ago to expand the Oromo Media Network they started in Minnesota. At that time, they had high hopes for the new prime minister, but now everything for them has changed. 

Arfasse Gemeda, the wife of Jawar Mohammed and mother of his child, has been in agony since he was arrested and detained in Ethiopia seven weeks ago. Protests both in Ethiopia and in the Twin Cities metro reignited after the killing of an outspoken activist and singer, Hachalu Hundessa. 

“It’s agonizing on a personal level, but even as an Oromo, it’s a very, very tough time for our community,” said Gemeda.

Mohammed is also a critic of the current prime minister. He was arrested the day after his friend’s murder, but was never charged. 

“He hasn’t committed any crimes, he’s a political prisoner,” said Gemeda. “They are holding him for his political beliefs.”

Also from Blaine and also detained in his home country is Kitessa Chiri’s brother Misha Chiri. Two days ago, he finally had bail set, but the Ethiopian government denied it. 

“The biggest issues are the unknowns, you don’t know what’s going to happen the next court appointment,” said Kitessa Chiri. “You don’t know what’s going to happen to tomorrow.”

With things happening like the internet being shut down for a month and 120 people killed in protests last week alone, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith have stepped in and sent a letter to the State Department.

“We are calling on the State Department to make sure these Minnesotans, their human and legal rights are protected, but also that the State Department moves to try and quell the violence and the suppression of human rights and violation of human rights that’s happening in Ethiopia,” said Sen. Smith.

Minnesota has one of the largest Ethiopian communities in the world outside of Ethiopia and it’s also an important strategic partner to the United States. 

While there's no confirmation of any torture, both families from Blaine are fearful of it. During a recent five-minute phone conversation, Mohammed indicated to his wife he’s been sick, but too worried to allow prison doctors to treat him. 
“In a country where there isn’t the rule of law, we count on the international assistance,” said Gemeda.

The families and supporters are continuing to draw attention to the unrest and detained men. There is a prayer service planned for Friday in front of the State Capitol.