Journalist disappears during riots

New York, April 23, 2001 — CPJ is greatly concerned about the disappearance of Seifu Mekonnen, a reporter for Mebrek, an Amharic-language weekly based in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Mekonnen was last seen on the afternoon of April 21 at a press conference of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, a local non-governmental organization, sources in Addis Ababa told CPJ. His current whereabouts are unknown.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Council called the press conference to dispute government charges that it, along with opposition parties and the independent press, had incited students and others in Addis Ababa to riot against police presence on local campuses.

At least 38 people were killed during two days of street confrontations between protesters and police forces.

Mekonnen’s relatives alerted the local press to his disappearance after they failed to find his name on an official list of several thousand people currently in police custody for questioning in connection with the riots. The detainees include more than 2000 students, according to the BBC.

Police also arrested some 60 newspaper vendors on April 20. This action effectively interrupted the circulation of most local private papers, which are heavily dependent on roadside vendors for their circulation.

The majority of the vendors were released on April 22 after signing statements prohibiting them from working for an indefinite period, the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association reported.

“We are deeply concerned about the fate of our colleague Seifu Mekonnen,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “CPJ urges Ethiopian authorities to release whatever information they may have about Mekonnen’s whereabouts. If he is being held by state security forces, they should release him at once.”