More reporters arrested in renewed crackdown in Ethiopia
Arrests of more journalists in recent weeks for their coverage of the 13-month-old civil war have confirmed the disastrous setback for press freedom seen in Ethiopia in 2021, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), calling on the authorities to free detained journalists and end the harassment and restrictions to which they are being subjected.
Amir Aman Kiyaro, a freelance video reporter who works for the Associated Press news agency, was arrested in the capital, Addis Ababa, on his return from a reporting trip on 28 November. According to the police, he is accused of “serving the purposes” of a terrorist group by interviewing some of its members. Two other journalists, Thomas Engida and Addisu Mulneh, were arrested at the same time on similar charges
Thousands of civilians have been killed and millions displaced in the civil war that began in November 2020, in which federal government forces are now fighting a coalition of armed groups from the Tigray and Oromia regions. The federal authorities declared a nationwide state of emergency last month, banning any information about troop movements and tolls of dead and wounded in clashes other those that provided by the authorities themselves.
“This new wave of arrests has once again highlighted the government’s growing crackdown on journalists and their readiness to silence anyone who does not toe the official reporting line,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “We call for the release of all detained reporters and we ask the Ethiopian authorities to stop criminalising journalism in their country.”
According to RSF’s information, at least four other journalists are being held arbitrarily. Kibrom Worku, the head of news at Ahadu radio and TV, has reportedly been in police custody since 26 October although a court ordered his release on 12 November. Eyasped Tesfaye, the head of the Ubuntu YouTube news channel, has been held since his arrest on 8 December. And Mohammed Meaza, the co-founder of the Roha news website, and Tamirat Negera, the director of the Terrara media outlet, have been held since their arrests on 10 December. The police searched Negera’s home and seized equipment. It is not known where he is being held.
Dozens of journalists have been arrested since the start of the civil war and some have been held arbitrarily for several months. In most cases, they were eventually released without any charge being brought against them.
Some media outlets such as the Addis Standard news site have been suspended, others have had to reduce their coverage of the civil war and others have had to stop altogether. They include the Awlo Media Center, which announced in October that it had suspended its activities because of threats and harassment.
Simon Marks, an Addis Ababa-based reporter for the New York Times, was expelled without any official explanation in May, a few weeks after being stripped of his accreditation for “lacking impartiality” and for disseminating “fake news.”
After rising in RSF's World Press Freedom Index for three years, Ethiopia fell two places in the 2021 Index and is now ranked 101st out of 180 countries.