Nairobi, January 28, 2021 — Ethiopian authorities must conduct a thorough and independent investigation into the killing of journalist Dawit Kebede Araya, determine if it was motivated by his work, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In the evening of January 19, unidentified attackers shot and killed Dawit, a reporter with the state-owned broadcaster Tigray TV, and his friend, Bereket Berhe, while they were driving near Dawit’s home in Mekelle, the capital of the northern state of Tigray, where conflict broke out in late 2020, according to news reports and four people familiar with the case who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retaliation.
Dawit and Bereket were found in the car the next morning with gunshot wounds to their heads, and were buried later that day, according to Reuters.
In a statement, the Ethiopia Human Rights Council, an independent watchdog group, alleged that unspecified government security forces had killed Dawit and Bereket, potentially for violating the region’s dusk-to-dawn curfew. The Addis Standard news website and Agence France-Presse also cited anonymous sources saying that they believed security forces were responsible for the killings.
On January 22, in an interview with the privately owned Ethiopian Satellite Television broadcaster, Mulu Nega, the head of Tigray’s interim administration, said that officials were carrying out an investigation into the killing, and encouraged people to follow the region’s curfew.
“Unanswered questions about the killing of journalist Dawit Kebede Araya will send a message of fear to the broader media community in Ethiopia, and will entrench impunity in attacks on the press,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities must ensure that investigations into Dawit’s killing and its motive are swift and credible, make their findings public, and hold those responsible to account.”
Two other people were in the car at the time of the shooting and their whereabouts are unknown, according to two people who spoke to CPJ and the Amharic-language service of the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Voice of America.
Police had detained Dawit on January 16 and summoned him to appear on January 18 at a local station, according to the Addis Standard and Reuters. Officers had questioned Dawit about his outlet’s coverage of the conflict, which broke out in November 2020 between federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a party that was ruling the state at the time, Reuters reported.
Federal forces took control of Mekelle on November 28, according to reports.
One of the people who spoke to CPJ visited the scene of the attack on January 20, and said that they found the car with bullet holes in the windshield and rear window, and said the vehicle seemed to have crashed into a tree.
In Tigray TV clips on social media, Dawit can be seen covering Tigray People’s Liberation Front forces’ alleged shooting down of an Ethiopian plane in November. The Ethiopian government later disputed that report as “false,” according to reports.
Tigray TV was offline for several weeks in late 2020, but Dawit had recently resumed work, according to BBC Amharic and one of the people who spoke to CPJ, who is a friend and former colleague of the journalist.
Dawit began his journalistic career working at the state-owned broadcaster Ethiopian Television, and later launched the magazine Dahai, where he worked as editor-in-chief, according to BBC Amharic and the friend who spoke to CPJ.
CPJ repeatedly called Mulu and Atakliti Haile Silassie, the mayor of Mekelle, but they did not answer the calls.
CPJ also called and texted Redwan Hussein, the spokesperson of the federal government’s emergency task force on Tigray, but he did not answer. CPJ emailed Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the prime minister’s office but did not receive any replies.