Abay Zewdu

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Abay Zewdu of the Amara Media Center (AMC) was arrested in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on August 10, 2023, and accused of breaching a state of emergency that was declared on August 4 in response to conflict in the Amhara region He was transferred to a military camp, where he was held without charge, and joined a hunger strike to protest poor conditions. 

Abay, who has been arrested at least three times in less than a year, is one of eight Ethiopian journalists in CPJ’s 2023 prison census who were reporting on the Amhara region, Ethiopia’s second most-populous region. 

Abay is chief editor of the AMC, which publishes news and commentary on political issues related to Ethiopia’s ethnic Amhara people, according to CPJ’s review. As of late 2023, AMC had some 80,000 followers on YouTube subscribers and over 300,000 Facebook followers.

Abay was arrested on August 10 by federal police officers in Addis Ababa, according to the online outlet Roha Media and his sister Zoma Zewdu, who spoke to CPJ. 

Zoma told CPJ that the police officers did not accuse Abay of any specific offense but said the arrest was made under legal provisions introduced when a six-month state of emergency was declared on August 4 in response to conflict in the Amhara state—which AMC had covered extensively.

In Amhara, the Fano militia were fighting federal forces in a conflict that began in 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 Amhara conflict was ongoing as of late 2023.

In one report, Abay described the Amhara conflict as a freedom struggle. AMC also aired various interviews with civilians in the Amhara state about the impact of the fighting, and interviewed Fano militiamen. 

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. 

Hundreds of people were arrested in the months following the declaration of a state of emergency, according to news reports, including at least eight journalists with a record of covering the Amhara conflict. In addition to Abay, three other journalists arrested after the state of emergency—Bekalu Alamrew, Belay Manaye, and Tewodros Zerfu—remained detained in late 2023 and are included in CPJ’s prison census.

Abay was initially held at the federal police detention center in Addis Ababa and was later transferred to a military camp in Awash Arba, some 240 kilometers (145 miles) east, according to Zoma and a September 2 statement by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (ERHC), a statutory watchdog. CPJ could not determine the exact date of Abay’s transfer. 

In October 2023, Abay and 28 other detainees in the Awash Arba military camp took part in a three-day hunger strike, without food or water, in protest over deprivation of medical care, food, and clean water, and what they described as political persecution in the Amhara region, according to Zoma and a letter written by the detainees, reviewed by CPJ.

Authorities previously arrested Abay, including in September 2022 for 24 days on allegations of disseminating false information, and in April 2023 for three weeks on allegations of inciting violence, according to CPJ’s documentation at the time, a report published on the Telegram channel of the news website Ashara Media, and two reports by the Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Centre, a nongovernmental organization.

In December 2023, federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi told CPJ in an emailed statement that he could not comment on the detention of Abay and other journalists under the state of emergency and referred CPJ to the command post, which was established to oversee the state of emergency.

As of late 2023, 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.