Muslims gather to protest perceived government interference in religious affairs. (DimtsachinYisema)
Muslims gather to protest perceived government interference in religious affairs. (DimtsachinYisema)

Ethiopian police detain VOA reporter, interpreter

Nairobi, May 25, 2012–Police in Ethiopia today detained Peter Heinlein, a correspondent for the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America, along with Simegnish Yekoye, a freelance reporter and Heinlein’s interpreter, according to Jennifer Janin, the Africa coverage editor for VOA, and local journalists.

Heinlein and Simegnish were detained while covering a demonstration of Muslims protesting alleged government interference in religious affairs, Janin said. They were being held late today at Maekelawi federal detention center in the capital, Addis Ababa, local journalists said.

In recent weeks, members of Ethiopia’s estimated 30 million Muslims have been staging protests on Fridays in Addis Ababa to oppose government policies they say interfere with religious affairs, according to news reports. The protests are a highly sensitive issue for the government, which fears a hardline Islamist influence within the country, according to wire reports.

Shimeles Kemal, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government, said that Heinlein was being held because he was allegedly using a diplomatic car and refused to show his press identification, local journalists told CPJ. No official charges have been filed, the journalists said.

“Peter Heinlein is a veteran reporter with many years’ experience in the profession,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We call for the immediate release of Heinlein and Simegnish Yekoye.”

VOA’s Amharic-language service broadcasts are sometimes jammed and its website periodically blocked in Ethiopia, according to CPJ research. In recent years, the Ethiopian government has used intimidation, imprisonment, and expulsions to silence independent reporting of VOA reporters.