Nairobi, December 20, 2022 –Ethiopian police should unconditionally release online journalist Meskerem Abera and cease harassing members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
Federal police detained Meskerem, the founder and editor of private YouTube-based media outlet Ethio Nikat Media, in the capital Addis Ababa on December 13, her husband, Fitsum Gebremichael, told CPJ by phone.
On December 15, a federal high court extended her detention by 14 days for police to investigate allegations that she incited violence, disseminated misinformation, and defamed the military through Ethio Nikat Media and social media platforms. She is due back in court on December 29, Fitsum said.
Meskerem was held for weeks following her arrest in May in relation to a similar accusation, but was never formally charged.
“Meskerem has already lost weeks languishing in state custody. It is highly disappointing that she has been arrested again in connection with her work,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative. “Ethiopian authorities should release Meskerem without delay and discontinue any criminal proceedings against her. She should be allowed to continue her work without further interference.”
Police accuse Meskerem of disseminating information that led to violence in the southern Gurage Zone, and attempting to justify recent protests in Addis Ababa, the court document reviewed by CPJ said. They also accuse her of encouraging the creation of vigilante groups; calling on members of the public to go on strike and block roads; and defaming the Ethiopian national defense forces. The document did not cite specific videos or posts.
Meskerem had recently covered protests that called for the Gurage Zone to become an autonomous state and argued that the right to demand a referendum on the issue is constitutionally protected. She also denounced the detention of protesters in Addis Ababa.
CPJ did not receive immediate responses to queries sent to the Federal Justice Ministry via email, and to Federal Police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi via email, messaging app, and text message.