New York, July 2, 2021 – Ethiopian authorities should immediately release all recently arrested journalists and media workers, and ensure that authorities cease harassing members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
At about 1 p.m. on June 30, police raided the office of the independent broadcaster Awlo Media Center in Addis Ababa, the capital, and arrested at least 12 of its employees, according to news reports, the outlet’s lawyer Tadele Gebremedhin, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, and two family members of the detainees, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns.
Officers detained the employees at the Federal Police Crime Investigation Center, have not brought them to court, and have not stated the reasons for their arrest, according to the family members, who had visited the employees in detention.
Separately, police arrested journalist Abebe Bayu yesterday and administrator Yayesew Shimelis today, both with the privately owned YouTube-based broadcaster Ethio Forum, according to Tadele, who is also representing them, those news reports, and Facebook posts by Ethio Forum.
The two journalists are also being held at the Federal Police Crime Investigation Center, Tadele said.
“Ethiopian authorities should immediately release all employees of Ethio Forum and the Awlo Media Center who were recently arrested in a brutal crackdown,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Authorities’ brazen raid on the media center and the mass detention of its staff for undisclosed reasons, followed by the arrests of Abebe Bayu and Yayesew Shimelis, is alarming, and further evidence that authorities will go to any length to suppress information and criticism.”
The arrested Awlo Media Center employees include reporters Bekalu Alamrew, Fanuel Kinfu, Fana Negash, and Miherete Geberkirestos; camera operators Musse Hadra and Nebeyu Mikael; video editors Melkamfire Yemam and Fikerte Yensu; and at least four non-journalistic employees, including accountants, janitors, and technical staff, according to their lawyer.
Police also arrested Tewlde Taddesse, a lawyer with the media center, at his home, the employees’ family members said.
In May, Awlo Media Center registered with the Ethiopian Media Authority as an online media outlet, as required by new regulations in the country, according to a Facebook post by the authority.
Last week, unidentified men briefly abducted and attacked Abebe, and Ethio Forum announced that it would temporarily cease broadcasting, as CPJ documented at the time. Abede told CPJ in a phone interview following the incident that the men told him to stop criticizing the government, but did not cite any specific coverage prompting the attack.
Both the Awlo Media Center and Ethio Forum have recently covered the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, as well as other news topics, according to CPJ reporting and a review of their recent coverage.
CPJ called Jeylan Abdi, a federal police spokesperson, who said he had no information about the detentions and referred CPJ to the Federal Police Crime Investigation Center. CPJ called Nadew Alehgn, a spokesperson for the center, but he did not answer.
Jeylan later told the Addis Standard, “The journalists were not arrested because of their profession but rather due to their affiliation with a terrorist group which is banned by the parliament.”
Last year, police arrested Yayesew following his reporting on COVID-19, and arrested Bekalu for allegedly disseminating false news. Both journalists were later released on bail, according to news reports.