“Next time we’ll hit you harder," Lucy Kassa was told by the three armed men in civilian clothes who forced their way into her home on 8 February, knocked her to the ground, turned the place upside down and took a computer, a USB stick and photos she had collected in the course of reporting one of her stories.
They also accused Kassa, who reports for several foreign media including the Los Angeles Times, Al Jazeera and the Norwegian monthly Bistandsaktuelt, of “spreading lies” and supporting “the Tigray junta.” On whose behalf were they acting? Were they members of the security forces, as their accusations suggest?
For the past few months, Kassa has been covering the conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the local authorities in the northern Tigray region. Her reporting has tackled very sensitive subjects such as the role of Eritrean soldiers in the fighting, the conditions of displaced persons, and cases of sexual violence against women in the region.
“This act of violence and these threats come at a time of great tension, and it is intolerable that journalists who bravely try to report what is happening, often at risk to their lives, are subjected to such harassment and intimidation,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “This courageous journalist has been subjected to serious threats. We ask the authorities to take all necessary steps to identify her attackers and deter them from targeting her again.”
When reached by RSF, Kassa said she no longer felt safe in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. A few hours after our phone call, a car overtaking at high speed nearly smashed into the taxi in which she was travelling in the city.
Journalism is again a dangerous profession in Ethiopia. Torn by ethnic clashes and by open warfare in the Tigray region, where the local authorities no longer recognize the federal government, Ethiopia is seeing fighting and massacres more typical of a civil war, and the situation of journalists has declined dramatically since late 2020.
Covering the fighting in Tigray has been nearly impossible because of bans on access and cuts in communications networks. As well as being deprived of information, journalists have also sometimes been deprived of their freedom. RSF has registered seven arbitrary arrests of journalists in connection with these events since the start of the hostilities in November.
Ethiopia is ranked 99th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.