Durban, South Africa, August 9, 2023—Ethiopian authorities must immediately release journalist Bekalu Alamrew, founder and chief editor of Alpha Media, a YouTube-based news channel, and ensure the protection of press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On Sunday, August 6, at approximately 2 p.m., three uniformed police officers and two other people in civilian clothes arrested Bekalu at his home in the capital city of Addis Ababa, according to a report by independent news website Ethiopia Insider, an Alpha Media report and a person familiar with his case who spoke to CPJ by phone and asked not to be named due to safety concerns.
The following morning police searched Bekalu’s house and confiscated his laptop, CDs and USB flash drives.
“During times of conflict and emergencies, the Ethiopian government’s apparent default position is to silence critical journalism by targeting independent voices based on vague allegations,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Bekalu Alamrew and all fellow journalists currently detained for their reporting and commentary must be unconditionally released and allowed to work freely without legal harassment and censorship.”
The person familiar with the case said Bekalu had not appeared in court within 48 hours of his detention nor been informed of the reason he was being held – a legal requirement under Article 19 of Ethiopia’s constitution – and was being held at the Federal Police Crime Investigation Main Department.
Prior to his arrest Bekalu extensively covered the ongoing violent confrontation in Amhara state between government forces and Fano, an armed militia operating within the state. This conflict resulted in the declaration of a six-month-long state of emergency and an ongoing internet shutdown in the region.
According to CPJ’s review, the state of emergency proclamation grants expanded powers to the State of Emergency Command Post, enabling it to order the closure, termination, revocation of licenses, or restriction of activities of any media organization or entity suspected of acting against the objectives outlined in the decree.
Bekalu has been arrested several times previously and released without charges. He was arrested in November 2020 on charges of disseminating false information, again in June 2021 when he was held for more than six weeks without access to family or legal representation, and once more in June 2022 on accusations of incitement to violence through media appearances, as documented by CPJ and news reports.
Federal police spokesman Jeylan Abdi did not reply to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via email and messaging app.