The Minnesota offices of a satellite television network serving the Oromo community were burglarized amidst protests over the death of singer and activist Hachalu Hundessa in Ethiopia, according to a police report.
An incident report and press release from the St. Anthony Police Department indicate that police discovered the burglary July 1 after responding to a report of suspicious activity. They found a crowd of 200 people protesting an office complex tenant. “Further investigation revealed that an office space leased by OBN International (Oromia Broadcast[ing] Network) had been burglarized and ransacked,” the press release said. “Per victims, the large gathering and burglary were perpetrated due to civil unrest that is occurring in Ethiopia.”
According to the police incident report, much of the property inside the business was destroyed. The Hennepin County Crime Lab is assisting with the ongoing investigation.
It was not clear why burglars targeted OBN International. The network uses the name, logo, and airtime of an Ethiopia-based company, though it’s separately run by U.S. citizens. Some members of the Oromo community in Minnesota consider the network pro-government and favorable toward Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed. It is distinct from the Oromia Media Network led by Jawar Mohammed, a political rival of Abiy, which also has headquarters in Minnesota. Jawar was arrested June 28 in Ethiopia on accusations that one of his bodyguards killed a police officer in the unrest following Hachalu’s death, though his supporters maintain the policeman was killed by a fellow officer.
OBN International officials have not commented publicly on the burglary, except to issue a statement in which board members condemned the killing of Hachalu “in the strongest terms” and called for justice, as well as a lifting of Ethiopia’s Internet shutdown. The press release also sought to “clarify” the network’s status for Minnesota’s Oromo community. “We don’t work for the Ethiopian government, which means that we are not their agents, not their employees, not anything except volunteers for our community here in the U.S.,” board members said. “We don’t have any membership with any political groups in Ethiopia — not the ruling party membership and not the opposing party membership.”
The press release said OBN International would suspend operations “indefinitely” due to unrest in Ethiopia and “what our own Oromo people are going through both here in the U.S and back home.”
Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.