Nairobi, March 22, 2023—Ethiopian authorities should immediately release journalist Beyene Wolde and ensure that members of the press are not imprisoned for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On the afternoon of March 2, police arrested Beyene from his office in the capital city of Addis Ababa, according to news reports and two people familiar with the case who spoke to CPJ.
Police did not give any reason for his arrest at the time, and in two subsequent court appearances authorities accused Beyene, founder and editor of the Gurage Media Network news website, of terrorism and incitement, according to his lawyer, Andamlak Shinber, who spoke to CPJ by phone. He has not been formally charged with a crime, and police have been granted permission to keep him in custody until March 28.
“Ethiopian authorities have an entrenched habit of incarcerating journalists on vague allegations, which has steadily eroded the space for critical reporting and commentary in the country,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal, in New York. “Beyene Wolde and all other journalists detained for their work should be released immediately and unconditionally.”
When Beyene appeared at the Lideta High Court in Addis Ababa on March 3, authorities accused him and six others of attempting to use violence to overthrow the country’s constitutional order, engaging in activities related to terrorism, organizing the youth, and using social media platforms to “cause mayhem and death,” according to Andamlak.
Andamlak said police were granted 10 days to hold him in custody pending investigation.
When Beyene’s relatives visited him at the Federal Police Crime Investigation Main Department in Addis Ababa on March 6, police said the journalist had been transferred to an unspecified location, the journalist’s brother, Nigatu Wolde, told CPJ by phone.
In a letter dated March 10 addressed to the Lideta High Court, which CPJ reviewed, police said that Beyene and his co-defendants had been released from custody and the allegations against them had been dropped.
However, on March 14, Beyene was brought before the High Court in Gurage Zone, an area in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ region, where he was accused of the same offenses and police were granted an additional 14 days to hold him in custody, Andamlak told CPJ. As of March 22, he is being held at Butajira police station in Gurage Zone, according to Andamlak and Nigatu.
In mid-February, protesters in the Gurage Zone capital of Wolkite took to the streets to protest the lack of clean water, according to multiple media reports, which said security forces killed and injured several protesters.
Nigatu posted on Facebook that Beyene traveled to Wolkite weeks before his arrest to report on the protests. Commentary and reporting by Beyene published on GMN’s website and YouTube channel, which has over 5,000 subscribers, include a report advocating for the right to protest in the Gurage Zone, coverage of the killing of protesters, and interviews with the families of the victims of violence.
When CPJ contacted federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi for comment, he said he would “verify the case” but then failed to respond to follow-up messages. CPJ emailed the Gurage Zone government’s communications office but did not receive any response.