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.
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.