Photojournalist briefly detained in Ethiopia

Police in Ethiopia’s western region of Gambella on November 1, 2013, detained Robin Hammond, a freelance photojournalist with dual U.K. and New Zealand citizenship, while he was on assignment for U.S. magazine National Geographic, according to news reports and local journalists.

Officers arrested Hammond in Gambella, accusing him of carrying more than US$4,000 without declaring the amount when he entered the country, according to the same sources. Ethiopian customs regulations require that foreigners entering Ethiopia declare any foreign currency in excess of US$3,000. In an interview with the U.S. government-funded international broadcaster Voice of America, Beth Foster, a spokesman for National Geographic Society, said Hammond was “briefly held in Gambella for a currency-related issue.”

Customs officials detained Hammond for more than seven hours before releasing him after Anteneh Abraham, chairman of the government-controlled Ethiopian National Journalists Union, intervened, according to local journalists.

Hammond left Ethiopia on November 18, 2013, according to the same sources.

Hammond had arrived in Ethiopia on October 30, 2013, on assignment to photograph commercial agricultural development in the country, according to news reports and local journalists. Local journalists believe he was harassed in reprisal for his efforts to speak to rural residents in Gambella about the government’s leasing of land once occupied by small-scale farmers to multinational commercial agribusiness developers. The government’s program of relocation of small scale farmers, officially intended to improve food security, has drawn controversy following human rights groups’ allegations of abusive and coercive tactics against indigenous populations, which authorities have consistently denied, according to news reports.