New York, July 1, 2021 – Ethiopian authorities must thoroughly investigate the recent attack on journalist Abebe Bayu, hold those responsible to account, and ensure that all members of the press can work without fear, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 21, a group of four unidentified men surrounded Abebe, a reporter and analyst at the YouTube-based news outlet Ethio Forum, outside a restaurant in Addis Ababa, the capital, and forced him into a car, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
The men handcuffed Abebe, threatened him with a pistol, covered his eyes, and punched him all over his body while they drove to the city’s outskirts, he said. They also warned him not to criticize the government, he told CPJ.
When the car arrived at the base of a cliff in Tulu Dimtu, outside Addis Ababa in Oromia state, the men stole both of Abebe’s cellphones and about 8,000 birr (US $183) he had with him, forced him to lay face down on the ground covered with a jacket, and threatened to shoot him if he moved, he said.
The men then left the scene and Abebe took a cab back to Addis Ababa, where he was treated at a local hospital for cuts to his knee, pain in his back, and swelling on his face where he had been hit, he told CPJ.
“The people who abducted and assaulted Ethiopian journalist Abebe Bayu cannot be allowed to escape responsibility; authorities must thoroughly investigate this incident, identify the attackers, and hold them to account,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Impunity for attacks on the press must not be allowed to fester in Ethiopia, and all journalists must feel safe to report freely.”
Videos on Ethio Forum’s YouTube page have received more than 86 million views, and the outlet frequently posts reporting critical of Ethiopian authorities. Its recent coverage includes a report on the country’s elections that was critical of federal authorities’ detentions of opposition candidates, commentary comparing the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region to 1990s Yugoslavia, and a report questioning whether NATO could intervene in Ethiopia.
Abede told CPJ that he did not know what specific coverage prompted the attack.
Abebe and one of his colleagues who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal told CPJ that Abede had appeared on camera in Ethio Forum’s reporting in the past, but had stopped doing so out of concerns for his safety.
Last year, authorities detained Ethio Forum administrator Yayesew Shimelis, as CPJ documented at the time. Ethio Forum has not aired new content since June 21, and on June 24 posted an announcement on its Facebook page stating that the station was forced to temporarily cease broadcasting but could not explain why.
In a phone interview, federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi said he has no information about Abebe’s assault and said he would look into the incident. Oromia State Police Commissioner Ararsa Merdasa told CPJ in a phone interview that he was not aware of the attack.