New York, May 24, 2022 – Ethiopian authorities should immediately release all recently arrested journalists and media workers and ensure that authorities cease harassing members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
Authorities have arrested at least 11 journalists and media workers since May 19 in Amhara state and the capital Addis Ababa as part of a broader crackdown that the state government calls a “law enforcement operation” that has resulted in the arrest of over 4,500 people for allegedly illegal activity.
Those detained include five journalists and media workers of the privately owned YouTube channel Ashara Media, four journalists and media workers of the YouTube channel Nisir International Broadcasting Corporation, Meskerem Abera, the founder and editor of private broadcaster Ethio Nekat Media; and Solomon Shumeye, the founder and owner of private broadcaster Gebeyanu Media.
“With the latest arrests of at least 11 journalists and media workers, it’s one step forward and three steps backward in Ethiopia and shows, yet again, that the government has no regard for press freedom and the right of citizens to information from a plurality of independent media sources,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Authorities should immediately release all of them without charge and ensure that Ethiopian journalists can report without fear of arbitrary detention, repression, and censorship.”
At about 5:30 p.m. on May 19, Amhara police raided the studio of Ashara Media in the Amhara state capital of Bahir Dar and arrested five employees, according to news reports, Elias Debasu, the director of Ashara Media, and Blen Techane, the wife of journalist Gashaye Negusse, who spoke to CPJ by phone. The arrested are:
Gashaye Negusse, journalist
Getenet Yalew, journalist
Habtamu Melese, journalist
Daniel Mesfin, a camera operator and video editor
Kelemu Gelagay, a camera operator and video editor
During the raid, police did not show a warrant and confiscated office equipment, including laptops and external hard drives, Elias told CPJ. Blen, who was able to briefly visit the detained journalists, said they were transferred to a prison in the small northern town of Nefas Mewcha, about 185 kilometers (115 miles) from Bahir Dar, on the morning of May 20 and are now being detained without access to family or lawyers.
Ashara Media recently covered the government’s crackdown on Fano, an armed militia in Amhara state, the detention of government critics, and a public demonstration about housing concerns, according to CPJ’s review.
Separately, around 5:30 p.m. on May 19, Amhara police raided the office of Nisir International Broadcasting Corporation and detained three of its employees and another employee on May 20, according to news reports, an outlet statement, and a person familiar with the events who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. CPJ is not publishing the names of the four employees as the outlet fears it will compromise the journalists’ and their families’ safety.
During the raid, police seized equipment, such as computers, memory cards, and external hard drives, and detained two of the employees in Bahir Dar and the other two in Nefas Mewcha, according to a person familiar with the events. The outlet’s statement indicates that the employees were editors, reporters, and other supporting staff.
CPJ’s review of Nisir’s content shows reports on the government’s actions on the Fano militia, press statements from an opposition political party, and the recent revocation of accreditation and expulsion of The Economist’s Ethiopia correspondent Tom Gardner.
On May 20, Addis Ababa police detained Gebeyanu Media’s Solomon at the Addis Ababa Police Commission, according to news reports, which cited Solomon’s lawyer and a family member. Solomon appeared in court on May 21 for allegedly making media statements that incited people to violence and creating discord between the federal and Amhara state governments, according to the VOA report.
CPJ’s review of Solomon’s recent work indicates he was critical of the government’s fiscal policy, the impact of the war in northern Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian government’s increasingly authoritarian approach to dealing with dissidents.
On May 21, Ethiopian security officers detained Ethio Nekat Media’s Meskerem at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa as she traveled from Bahir Dar, according to news reports, her lawyer Henok Aklilu, and her husband Fitsum Gebremichael, who spoke with CPJ by phone. Henok told CPJ that Meskerem was detained at Addis Ababa Police Commission and charged with crimes of incitement of public violence through her media appearances, adding that she appeared in court on May 23 and May 24. Her next appearance is scheduled for June 6.
Ethio Nekat Media’s coverage features news about Amhara state, a message by Meskerem to an Ethiopian military general appealing to him to side with the Fano militia and the people amid what she described as a “looming crackdown,” and a segment in which Meskerem defended the need for the Fano militia in the state.
In a May 20 press statement, the Federal Government Communication Service vowed to “continue to take decisive measures against those engaged in illegal activities, intentionally causing public alarm and turmoil, as well as those who are working to cause violence and disturbance among the public under the disguise of journalism and media work.”
CPJ emailed Justice Minister Gedion Timothewos Hassebon, Federal Police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi, the Addis Ababa Police Commission, Amhara Police Commission, Amhara State Communications, and Amhara National Regional State Prison Commission but did not receive any replies.
Separately, Desu Dula and Bikila Amenu of the Oromia News Network appeared in court on May 24 and their case was adjourned to June 3, according to a news report. CPJ has documented their months-long detention and called for their immediate release.