Abebe Wube, a former reporter and manager at the independent weekly newspaper Ye Qelem Qend, was arrested in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on October 18, 2016, the paper’s owner and editor-in-chief Muluken Tesfaw, told CPJ.
Ethiopia’s Command Post, the body overseeing a state of emergency declared October 9 in response to widespread anti-government protests, ordered the arrest, Muluken and Yared Hailemariam, the executive director of the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, said.
CPJ could not determine if Abebe had been charged by late 2016. Muluken said he believed the arrest related to anti-terror charges, which the government has used previously to silence critics. He said that on the day Abebe was arrested, police searched the journalist’s home and removed copies of the newspaper.
Abebe was the manager of Ye Qelem Qend, and also wrote news articles and sourced photographs for the paper, Muluken said. Ye Qelem Qend focused on current affairs and human rights issues, including the plight of the Oromo and Amhara–two of the largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia–that led to protests in Ethiopia against decades of abuse, discrimination, and marginalization.
The paper closed in May 2016 when Muluken, who said he feared arrest, applied for asylum in Finland after attending Unesco’s World Media Freedom Day, he told CPJ. The paper closed for a couple of weeks in late 2015 because of pressure from authorities, Yared told CPJ.
Abebe also interviewed witnesses and helped research details for Muluken’s 2016 book Yetifet Zemen, on the plight of the Amhara people. His work is acknowledged alongside that of other journalists in the book.
Habtamu Assefa, an Ethiopian journalist living in exile in the U.S. who works for Hiber Radio in Las Vegas, told CPJ he interviewed Abebe about his coverage of unrest in Amhara before the newspaper ceased publication. “I interviewed him about the people who were displaced from the Sekota Awi zone in Amhara because of the famine … and the police intimidation. The government denied the problem. He went there to interview them and take photos,” said Habtamu. “He gave me an interview from there.”
Habtamu said that when he interviewed Abebe a couple of months later, the journalist told him he had received death threats in July from what he described as three government security agents who harassed and verbally threatened him. He said he had also received telephone threats.
According to Muluken, security agents questioned Abebe in May 2016 for half a day about Muluken’s whereabouts and why he was visiting Europe. Muluken said Abebe told him he feared he would be arrested during the crackdown on journalists, and went into hiding for several months. The journalist returned to Addis Ababa at the end of September to try to find work, Muluken said.
When CPJ requested comment from Ethiopia’s communications minister Negeri Lencho, the minister directed CPJ to call the information director-general Mohammed Seid, who is authorized to comment on the matter. Mohammed did not return CPJ’s calls and text messages in late 2016.
Muluken said that the journalist’s wife, Eshet, told him Abebe was initially detained in a police station in Addis Ababa, but was later transferred to the Abwash Arba military center. She said she was able to talk to Abebe while he was at the police station and that he had appeared to be OK, although he said he had not been told what charges he was facing or why he had been arrested. His wife said she had been prevented from visiting Abebe at the military center, according to Muluken.