Nairobi, March 3, 2021 — In response to Ethiopian authorities’ decision today to release two media workers and two reporters who had been detained in relation to their coverage of the conflict in the northern state of Tigray, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:
“We welcome the release of the translators and reporters who were detained in Mekelle, but they should never have spent one day in custody. Their arrests send a chilling message to other members of the press who may wish to cover the ongoing conflict in Tigray state,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “The Ethiopian government must guarantee the safety of the released reporters and translators, return any of their equipment still in state custody, and ensure that the local and international press can work without intimidation.”
Between February 27 and March 1, military personnel in Mekelle, the Tigray state capital, arrested Agence France-Presse translator Fitsum Berhane and Financial Times translator Alula Akalu, as well as BBC reporter Girmay Gebru and Tamrat Yemane, a local reporter and fixer, as CPJ documented.
All four were released without charge today, according to reporting by the AFP, Reuters, and the BBC. In its report, the AFP wrote that a soldier told Fitsum that he could kill him and fabricate a story that the journalist had broken Mekelle’s dusk-to-dawn curfew. Authorities had not returned a laptop and phone confiscated from Fitsum at the time the AFP report was published.
Since the conflict in Tigray broke out in early November, CPJ has documented the detention of at least six journalists, with some being held in connection to their reporting on Tigray while others were accused of having links to the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front political party, whose forces are fighting the Ethiopian federal government. In January, a state media journalist, Dawit Kebede Araya, was shot dead in Mekelle, as CPJ documented.