According to the information obtained by RSF, Bekalu Alamrew has been arrested on 4 November. He is a political reporter for the YouTube channel Awlo Media, who is reputedly very critical of Ethiopia’s current government and a supporter of the opposition Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), now in open conflict with the federal government. RSF has been told that he is suspected of links with TPLF leaders and is accused of inciting revolt.
The other is Medihane Ekubamichael, editor-in-chief of the Addis Standard, one of the main English-language weeklies, who is also very critical of the current government. Medihane was released after being arrested on 7 November but was re-arrested on 10 November.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission says the other four journalists were arrested on the night of 10 November. They are Haftu Gebreegziabher, Tsegaye Hadush and Abreha Hagos of the Ethiopian Press Agency (EPA) and Udi Mussa, a journalist with Oromia Media Network (OMN), a TV channel that was banned under the previous government and whose founder has been jailed for the past several months. None of these four journalists had been allowed access to a lawyer when this press release was published.
These arrests have come at a time when the federal government is accusing local forces in the Tigray region of attacking federal army bases, and several military officers have been arrested for alleged complicity in these attacks.
Covering the conflict is very hard for Ethiopian journalists and media. Telecommunications have been cut and journalists have been telling RSF for several weeks that they have had difficulties going into the field. The broadcast media regulator had even officially called on media not to cover local elections held in the Tigray region, which the federal government did not recognize.
The Tigray authorities no longer recognize the legitimacy of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who decided to postpone the general elections scheduled in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus crisis.
“If these journalists have done wrong, they must be able to answer for their actions without being placed in detention in conditions that remain very secret and in violation of their most basic rights,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “We call on the Ethiopian authorities to release them and to not resort to the former government’s methods of arresting journalists arbitrarily. Such methods do not in any way help Ethiopia to respond to the problems it is currently facing.”
Abiy Ahmed’s installation as prime minister in 2018 brought major improvements in press freedom. Many imprisoned journalists were released and more than 250 previously banned media outlets were allowed to operate.
After Abiy was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2019, RSF urged him to carry out reforms that would institutionalize respect for press freedom. Unfortunately, no significant improvements to the draconian media laws were made and, in recent months, RSF has received reports of several violations of the freedom to inform that have fuelled concern about a regression that would endanger the remarkable progress of the past two years.
Since 2018, Ethiopia has risen 51 places in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, going from 150th out of 180 countries to 99th.