Ethiopian journalist Gobeze Sisay is seen after arriving in Ethiopia, following his arrest in Djibouti. (Screenshot: EBC/YouTube)

Journalist Gobeze Sisay facing terrorism investigation in Ethiopia after arrest in Djibouti

Nairobi, May 12, 2023—Ethiopian authorities should immediately release journalist Gobeze Sisay and cease harassing members of the press at home and abroad, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On May 6, Ethiopian authorities announced that Gobeze, editor and founder of privately owned YouTube-based broadcaster The Voice of Amhara, had been arrested in the neighboring country of Djibouti. The journalist’s lawyer, Addisu Almaw, told CPJ that he was renditioned to Ethiopia and was held at the Federal Police Crime Investigation Center in the capital city of Addis Ababa.

On May 9 and 10, Gobeze appeared before the Lideta branch of the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa, where police accused him of terrorism and leading the media propaganda wing of an unnamed extremist group, according to court documents reviewed by CPJ. Authorities did not identify any specific content or activities prompting that allegation.

The court granted police an additional 14 days to hold Gobeze for investigation, and he is due in court on May 24, Addisu said.

“Ethiopian authorities have brazenly reached across borders to silence and retaliate against journalist Gobeze Sisay. His arrest will instill fear in all the journalists who have fled the country, seeking safety in exile,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Gobeze should be released without delay, and authorities in Ethiopia and Djibouti must shed light on the murky circumstances surrounding his arrest and rendition.”

In the announcement of Gobeze’s arrest, published on the Facebook page of the Ethiopian Federal Police and signed by the Ethiopian Security and Intelligence Taskforce, authorities said he had been arrested with the assistance of Djiboutian authorities and the International Criminal Police Organization, or Interpol. That task force is a body that brings together the police, military, and intelligence services.

In an emailed statement to CPJ, an Interpol representative said the organization had no information about Gobeze in its databases and noted that it was not empowered to arrest or extradite individuals.

Prior to his arrest, Gobeze’s reporting focused on recent unrest in Amhara regional state, following the demobilization of the Amhara State Special Forces. Authorities previously detained Gobeze for more than a week in May 2022, and held him for more than two months later that year.

In an April 30 statement by the security task force, authorities accused Gobeze and 46 others of involvement in terrorism in Amhara regional state. That statement named at least five journalists—Meskerem Abera, Dawit Begashaw, Tewodros Asfaw, Genet Asmamaw, and Assefa Adane—who were already in detention.

The April 30 statement said authorities were responding to “extremist groups attempting to forcibly subvert the constitutional system in the Amhara region”  following the April 27 murder of Girma Yeshitila, a top ruling party official in the state. It accused members of the media of spreading false news and propaganda.

Gobeze fled to Djibouti after that statement was published, his lawyer told CPJ.

When CPJ asked Ethiopian Federal Police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi about the circumstances of Gobeze’s detention and rendition, he declined to answer those questions and said via messaging app that Gobeze had been detained in connection to the death of an official in Amhara regional state, was suspected of terrorism, and was not being targeted for his journalism.

CPJ contacted Djibouti Deputy Director of Public Security Omar Hassan and Interior Minister Said Nuh Hassan via messaging app and text message for comment, but did not immediately receive any responses. CPJ’s text to Djibouti Information Minister Ridwan Abdullahi Bahdon was answered with an error message saying the number could not be identified.

When CPJ called the publicly available number for the Djibouti police, the person who answered said they were not familiar with Gobeze’s case.