Bekalu Alamrew, founder of Alpha Media, was arrested in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on August 6, 2023, 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.
Bekalu, who has been arrested at least four times in three years, is one of eight Ethiopian journalists in CPJ’s 2023 prison census who were arrested during the year after reporting on the Amhara region, Ethiopia’s second most-populous region.
Bekalu founded Alpha Media, a YouTube-based news channel, in January 2022, and worked as its chief editor, reporter, and presenter, according to CPJ’s review and a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity, citing security fears. As of late 2023, the channel had more than 50,000 subscribers.
Bekalu was arrested at his home on August 6 by three uniformed officers from the Addis Ababa Police Commission and two people in civilian clothing, according to the person familiar with the case.
The following morning, police searched Bekalu’s residence and confiscated his laptop, CDs, and USB flash drives, according to the independent news website Ethiopia Insider and the person familiar with the case.
That person told CPJ that the police officers 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 Amhara state—which Bekalu 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.
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 Bekalu, three other journalists who were arrested after the state of emergency—Abay Zewdu, Belay Manaye, and Tewodros Zerfu—remained detained in late 2023 and are included in CPJ’s prison census.
Bekalu was held at the federal police detention center in Addis Ababa and then transferred to a military camp in Awash Arba, some 240 kilometers (145 miles) east, according to a September 2 statement by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (ERHC), a statutory watchdog. CPJ could not determine the exact date of Bekalu’s transfer.
In October 2023, Bekalu 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 the person familiar with the case and a letter written by the detainees, reviewed by CPJ.
Authorities previously arrested Bekalu for two weeks in November 2020 on charges of disseminating false information and in June 2021 for six weeks without charge when he was a reporter at Awlo Media Center, which closed in October 2021 following government pressure, according to CPJ documentation and news reports. After setting up Alpha Media, Bekalu was also arrested in May 2022 and held for a month on accusations of incitement, CPJ and the privately owned Ethiopian Reporter news site reported.
In December 2023, federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi told CPJ in an emailed statement that he could not comment on the detention of Bekalu 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.