A screenshot of Teshager Tsigab, a reporter with Ethiopia's Yabele Media.
Ethiopian security officers arrested Teshager Tsigab (shown), a reporter with Yabele Media, and Mehari Kahsay and Mehari Selemon, co-founders and reporters with Ayam Media, while they were covering an opposition protest on September 7, 2023. (Screenshot: YouTube/Yabele Media)

Three Ethiopian journalists beaten and detained while covering protest in Tigray

Nairobi, September 21, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday called on Ethiopian authorities to hold to account security personnel who assaulted at least three journalists and to desist from harassing and detaining members of the press.

On September 7, security officers in Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray Region, beat and arrested Teshager Tsigab, a reporter with the online news outlet Yabele Media, and Mehari Kahsay and Mehari Selemon, co-founders and reporters with Ayam Media, while they were covering an opposition protest, according to media reports and the three journalists, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

Mehari Kahsay and Mehari Selemon told CPJ they were released on bail on September 9. They said officials accused them of participating in an illegal protest but did not formally charge them in court. Authorities did not level any specific allegations against Teshager, or formally charge him in court before releasing him on bail on September 11.

“The beating and detention of these three journalists sends a chilling message that authorities in Tigray are unwilling to make room for reporters to cover critical subjects,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “The Tigray interim regional administration must investigate this incident, hold the officers responsible to account, and guarantee that the press can report on opposition protests and dissenting voices without retaliation.”

Ethiopia appointed the interim administration in March as part of a November 2022 peace deal that ended two years of conflict between the federal government and rebels led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front party.

Three opposition parties planned to hold a demonstration in Mekelle’s Romanat Square but authorities said it was not authorized and police dispersed the crowd with beatings and arrested more than 20 people, according to media reports.

The three journalists said they were separately filming the protesters when they were confronted by groups of men in police uniform who ordered them to stop and beat them with sticks and electric cables.

Teshager told CPJ that he ran to a nearby café, but the officers found him there, beat him until he briefly lost consciousness, and took him to Mekelle’s Semien Sub-City police station. Teshager said he had blurred vision and vomited after the beating and sustained wounds to his head, back, and legs.

Mehari Selemon and Mehari Kahsay said they initially escaped but men in police uniforms confronted them while they were having breakfast in a different café later that morning, beat them, and forced them to walk barefoot to a patrol vehicle about 10 minutes away in Romanat Square. They were also detained at the Semien Sub-City police station.

Mehari Selemon told CPJ that he sustained a nosebleed and a headache and had body aches. Mehari Kahsay shared images with CPJ of deep bruises and swelling on his legs, shoulders, and back, which he said resulted from the beatings, and said his head was also swollen.

Teshager said the police took him to a hospital on September 7, where he was given painkillers, and again on September 8, when he was examined by a doctor and given an x-ray at a different hospital. Teshager told CPJ that he did not see the results of the medical examination, which were shared with the police, who told him that he was fine. 

Mehari Selemon and Mehari Kahsay said they were given painkillers when they were taken to a hospital on September 8.

The U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported that security personnel in military and civilian clothes harassed reporters working for their outlets, as well as local media. The outlets did not name the journalists.

One person who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns, said the police told them to stop filming the protest and tried to forcefully delete their footage. Private security guards were also involved in the attacks, that person said.

Press freedom violations escalated in Ethiopia during the 2020-2022 civil war when numerous journalists were arrested and detained for weeks without formal charges.

CPJ’s queries to the communication office of the Tigray interim administration via email and Facebook and to the head of the interim administration, Getachew Reda, via X, formerly known as Twitter, did not receive any replies.