Amir Aman Kiyaro, a freelance video journalist who contributes to The Associated Press, was detained on November 28, 2021, for allegedly breaching the country’s state of emergency and anti-terrorism laws by interviewing members of the “shene,” a term officials use to refer to the insurgent group, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).
Officials did not make his arrest public until December 15, when the federal police published a statement on Facebook. Two other journalists—freelancer Thomas Engida and Addisu Muluneh, a reporter with the state-affiliated broadcaster Fana Broadcasting Corporation—were arrested in early December and faced similar allegations as Amir, according to the police statement and a person familiar with the details of their detention, who requested anonymity due to safety concerns. During his detention, Amir was repeatedly interrogated about his work, often at night and for up to eight hours per session, during which police accused him of trying to help “terrorists” and collecting information for foreign powers, according to the person who spoke to CPJ anonymously. Officers accused him of having an agenda against the Ethiopian government due to his ethnicity, according to the person, who noted that Amir is Muslim and that his father is Oromo.
Amir was detained for almost three months without appearing in court or being formally charged with any crime, according to AP reporting and Amir’s wife Sisay Tadele, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app in early 2022. On February 22, 2022, during Amir’s first hearing, a court in Addis Ababa ordered him to remain in custody pending the investigation, according to a report by the privately owned news outlet Addis Standard. His detention was extended again in mid-March 2022, after police said they needed time for the National Intelligence and Security Service to analyze information from the journalists’ confiscated devices, according to reports by Addis Standard and the AP. Amir’s health deteriorated behind bars, according to a February 17 letter from the AP to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Amir’s wife told CPJ that Amir was being held in cramped conditions next to a toilet, which was aggravating a sinus condition. In March 2022, he was moved from the Addis Ababa Police Commission to the less-cramped Federal Police Investigation Center in the capital, according to the person who spoke to CPJ anonymously, who added that Amir received medical attention for his sinus conditions at the center.
Amir and Thomas were granted bail on March 29 and released on April 1. Addisu was released in January 2022.
In a December 2021 telephone interview, federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi told CPJ that interviewing OLA was a “crime” under the country’s anti-terror law, and not an act of journalism. He accused the journalists of intending to promote the OLA internationally. CPJ’s emails to Ethiopia’s Ministry of Justice were unanswered.
Amir was not included in CPJ’s 2021 prison census because CPJ was not aware of the details of his detention until it was made public by officials in mid-December 2021. In late 2022, the 2021 prison census was updated to include Amir. Thomas and Addisu’s cases are not in the census because they were arrested after the December 1, 2021, cutoff date.