In Ethiopia’s Somali region, 15 foreign TV channels banned, journalist arrested
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Ethiopia’s decision to suspend Somali-language TV broadcasts by 15 international TV broadcasters in its southeastern Somali Region, and the arrest of one of the TV channels’ journalists for two days. The suspensions violate the freedom to report news and information, and must be lifted, RSF says.
Update on 23/02/23:
EOTC TV journalist Deacon Yosef Ketema was finally released on 21 February after being held for eight days, while Tewodros Asfaw, who runs the YouTube channel Ethio Selam, was released on 22 February after being held for eight days. A federal high court had ruled on 17 February that he should be released on bail, but the police appealed against the decision with the result that he had to spend another five days in prison.
The 15 foreign TV broadcasters, including BBC Somali, have not been broadcasting in Ethiopia’s southeastern Somali region, the country’s second largest, since 28 January. The Somali Region Communications Bureau imposed the suspensions after receiving a letter from the Ethiopian Media Authority asking it to take measures against journalists working for foreign media without a licence.
The day after the suspensions were imposed, the regional police arrested Muhiyadin Mohammed Ali, a journalist with one of the suspended TV channels, Kalsan TV, who was coordinating the publication of a press release condemning the measure. Charged with “spreading false propaganda” on social media for criticising the regional ruling party in a Facebook Live broadcast, he was held for two days in a Fafan zone police station and then freed on condition that he published no articles critical of the government for three months.
These attacks on press freedom pose a grave danger to the media environment in the region and the country as a whole. The region’s authorities must urgently lift the suspension of these 15 foreign media, which is clearly an attempt to prevent the press from covering sensitive subjects. Muhiyadin Mohammed Ali, whose arrest showed authority being misused to suppress the right to free speech, has sadly joined the long list of journalists to have been detained in Ethiopia. We call on the authorities to protect press freedom by reversing these decisions.
Before the suspensions were announced, the media outlets concerned had asked the regional government to renew their licences, under which they operated legally in the region. But their requests went unanswered.
The suspensions are said to be linked to their coverage of the region’s current problems, including drought and corruption. Although the Ethiopian Media Authority had asked the Somali Region Communications Bureau to take measures against journalists working without a licence, it claimed that it was not told in advance about the suspensions.
“Freedom of expression” likened to “freedom of chaos”
Without any warning, the authorities also rescinded the licence of the Somali Region Journalists’ Association on 3 February for allegedly “inappropriate action.” The association’s spokesman, Abdulrazaq Hassan, told RSF he thought the decision was a reprisal for what it had said about the suspensions. He also reported an intimidation attempt.
"On 8 February, uniformed men went to the office and asked the watchman why he was still working,” he said. “I am still a target and I fear being jailed at any moment. In fact, all of the journalists are now afraid because of the suspensions."
That same day, the Somali region’s president, Mustafa Omer, posted an unprecedented message on Facebook in which he said, “freedom of expression in the region” could be compared to “freedom of chaos.”
Press freedom in Ethiopia has been obstructed by the war between government forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). In May 2022, federal forces arrested a total of 21 media professionals in the space of ten days in what was described as a “law enforcement operation.”
The latest arrests of journalists in Ethiopia took place a week ago. Deacon Yosef Ketema, a journalist with the Oromo-language Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Television (EOTC TV), was arrested on 13 February and is being held in an unknown location. Tewodros Asfaw, the founder of Ethio Selam, a leading Ethiopian YouTube channel offering independent political analysis and criticism of the war in Tigray, was arrested on 14 February by two armed police officers and four plainclothesmen, and was taken to the federal police crime investigation office in Addis Ababa’s Mexico Square. They are accused of “terrorism” and “inciting violence” for covering a split in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.