Soldiers are seen in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 2, 2020. Authorities recently re-arrested two journalists and a camera operator after briefly releasing them on bail. (Reuters/Tiksa Negeri)

Ethiopian authorities re-arrest journalists and media worker released on bail

Nairobi, September 10, 2020 – Ethiopian authorities must stop abusing judicial processes to hold journalists and media workers in prolonged pre-trial detention without charge, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On September 8, seven plainclothes security personnel in Addis Ababa, the capital, arrested reporter Belay Menaye, news anchor Mulugeta Anberbir, and camera operator Misganaw Kefelgn, moments after they were ordered released on bail, according to their lawyer, Henok Aklilu, who spoke to CPJ via phone.

Belay and Mulugeta were originally arrested on August 5, and Misganaw on August 6, for alleged incitement to violence, as CPJ documented at the time. The Federal First Instance Court issued a bail order on September 7, and the following day the Federal High Court rejected an appeal from police to keep the three in detention, according to Henok and a statement by their employer, the privately owned Amhara Satellite Radio and Television broadcaster.

Yesterday, Belay, Mulugeta, and Misganaw appeared at the Federal First Instance Court, where police were granted seven days to investigate them for alleged incitement, according to a statement by the broadcaster.

Separately, Chibsa Abdulkerim and Melese Direbssa, two employees of the Oromia Media Network broadcaster, have been detained without charge since July 2, according to Tuli Bayyisa, one of their lawyers, who spoke to CPJ via messaging application, and CPJ research.

“Ethiopian authorities’ pattern of maneuvering around bail orders to extend pre-trial detention is alarming and points to a disregard for the legal process as well as journalists’ and media workers’ well-being, considering the increased risk of contracting COVID-19 behind bars,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities had weeks to credibly charge the Amhara Satellite Radio and Television and Oromia Media Network journalists and media workers but did not. They should be released immediately.”

Security agents re-arrested Belay, Mulugeta, and Misganaw as they were leaving the Addis Ababa Police Commission, and said they wanted them for “further questioning,” according to Henok. Yonatan Mulugeta, a former employee of the broadcaster who had been held alongside the three, was allowed to go free, Henok said.

In court yesterday, police claimed that they are investigating Belay, Mulugeta, and Misganaw for alleged incitement to violence following the June 29 killing of musician Hachalu Hundessa, which sparked unrest in Ethiopia, according to a statement by their employer. The three had previously been held on suspicion of committing incitement by producing reports showing the Amhara people, Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group, as oppressed and characterizing the Ethiopian government as incapable of protecting them, as CPJ documented at the time of their previous arrests.

On August 11, Melese, who is a news director of the Oromia Media Network, and Chibsa, a driver for the station, were similarly re-arrested shortly after a court granted them bail, according to Tuli. As of today, no charges have been filed against them, their lawyer said.

Melese and Chibsa were first arrested in July alongside two other Oromia Media Network journalists, Guyo Wariyo and Mohamed Siraj, as well as  Kenyan freelancer Collins Juma Osemo, who goes by Yassin Juma, all of whom were under investigation in connection to the unrest following Hachalu’s killing, as CPJ documented at the time. Those three have all been released without charge, according to Tuli.

In the wake of Hachalu’s killing, authorities investigated several media outlets, including the Oromia Media Network, for incitement to violence, but the attorney general’s office told CPJ that Amhara Satellite Radio and Television was not under investigation in connection to the unrest, as the outlet was not broadcasting at the time. Teferi Admasu, the deputy chairperson of broadcaster’s board, told CPJ that it had been off-air between June 24 and July 18 due to financial constraints.

Belay, Mulugeta, and Melese have said in court that they were concerned about the risks of contracting COVID-19 behind bars, according to the lawyers and media reports.

In July and August, Ethiopia’s federal attorney general responded to requests for comment with detailed statements, as CPJ documented. CPJ emailed that office again for comment on developments in the cases and on Belay, Mulugeta, and Misganaw’s re-arrests, but did not receive any replies.