Nairobi, December 4, 2023—Ethiopian authorities should unconditionally release Belay Manaye, chief editor of Ethio News, who has been detained without explanation for three weeks, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Monday.
On November 13, a group of uniformed police officers and other security personnel in civilian clothes arrested Belay in the capital, Addis Ababa, near the offices of Ethio News, a private YouTube-based news outlet, Belay’s wife Belaynesh Nigatu and Ethio News co-founder Belete Kassa told CPJ.
The officers took Belay to the Federal Police Crime Investigation Center, where he remains in detention, without informing him of the reason for his arrest or taking him to court, they said.
“Belay Manaye has spent three weeks behind bars without any explanation from Ethiopian authorities. This sends a grave message to other Ethiopian journalists—that they can be deprived of their liberty at any time,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan African Representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities should unconditionally release Belay Manaye and stop arbitrarily detaining members of the press.”
Belaynesh, who visited her husband in jail, told CPJ that the journalist feared he was being held under legal provisions introduced when a state of emergency was declared on August 4 in response to conflict in the northern Amhara state.
The emergency declaration gives the government additional powers to ban public meetings, declare a curfew, shut down mass media, and detain people suspected of crimes against the state in order to “maintain public peace and order” in response to “the armed illegal activities of the Amhara National Regional Government.”
The Fano militia in Amhara have been fighting federal forces since April, after the federal government announced a controversial decision to integrate regional militia into the federal army. The Fano were previously allied with the federal government in a civil war in northern Ethiopia that ended with a peace deal in November 2022.
The state of emergency law, reviewed by CPJ, gives security personnel wide powers of arrest and suspends the due process of law, including the right to appear before a court and receive legal counsel. Ordinarily, Article 19 of Ethiopia’s constitution requires police to produce detained persons in court within 48 hours.
This is not Belay’s first detention. In July 2020, authorities arrested Belay, two of his colleagues, and one ex-colleague from the Amhara Satellite Radio And Television (ASRAT) on allegations of inciting violence. After 46 days, Belay was released on bail without charge, according to his post on X, formerly Twitter, and the Addis Standard.
In an emailed statement, federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi said he could not comment on the detention of Belay and other journalists under the state of emergency and referred CPJ to the command post, which was established to oversee the state of emergency.
CPJ’s queries via email and messaging app to the federal ministry of justice, and government spokesperson Legesse Tulu, who is a member of the state of emergency command post and has issued statements on behalf of the body, did not receive any responses.