More than 1,000 supporters gathered around the Addis Ababa home of Jawar Mohammed, media entrepreneur and political activist, after he reported his government-provided security detail was asked by police to leave his home in the middle of the night.
Mohammed posted reports on the developments on the Facebook page of the Oromia Media Network, which he co-founded.
“Why were they trying to remove my security at night?” he asked. “In the past, whenever they made changes to security, the commanders either personally called me or the head of my detail to inform us. What changed?”
Mohammed said he thought the removal of security forces from his house was meant to take advantage of political demonstrations over the past few days in Addis Ababa and elsewhere in Oromia.
“The plan was to remove my security and unleash civilian attackers and claim it was a mob attack,” he said in the Facebook post.
On Wednesday, Mohammed confirmed the story to VOA. He said members of his security detail were still at his home, having refused to leave in the middle of the night.
But Police Commissioner General Endeshaw Tassew told VOA that Mohammed’s assumption that he had been targeted for violence was false and that Mohammed’s case was just one of several in which security details had been removed.
“Police have been assessing the need for private guards for individuals and making similar decisions. We will continue to do so,” Tassew added.
He called for protesters who had blocked roads in the area to stand down and let normal life resume.
Shimelis Abdisa, vice president of the Oromia region, called for an investigation into the incident, saying it was a “major mistake.”
Late Wednesday, the prime minister’s office had not commented.
Originally working from the U.S. state of Minnesota, Ethiopia-born and U.S.-educated Mohammed was seen as instrumental in bringing current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to power in 2018. Mohammed returned to Ethiopia that year.
Since then, he has been known as a controversial figure, straddling the roles of journalist and activist. He was assigned a private security detail when he returned to Ethiopia, like many other political figures in the days following Abiy’s election.
While supporters gathered around Mohammed’s house late Tuesday and early Wednesday, thousands of political protesters gathered in parts of Addis Ababa and other towns in Oromia state, including Adama, Shashamane, Jimma, Ambo and Harar.
In Chalanko, resident Mohammed Abdella said protesters rushed into the street around 5 a.m. to show solidarity with Jawar Mohammed.
“The protest was all peaceful,” he said. “Jawar is our hero, our leader.”
Jaffar Mohammed, mayor of the eastern Ethiopian city Dire Dawa, said officials are investigating reports of violence.
“Looters also joined the protesters and the situation changed its course,” he told VOA. “One person lost his life and we are checking the cause of death.”
Jaffar Mohammed said he has reports that four people were wounded and that officials are investigating.
In Awaday city, Mohamed Bakar Ibro said his 19-year-old brother, Araraso Bakar Ibro, was killed during protests. Jaffar Mohammed confirmed the death. He said officials are still investigating reports of injuries.
Horn of Africa stringers Muktar Jamal in Adama, Nakor Melka in Ambo, and Sora Haleke in Washington contributed to this story.