Ethiopian authorities arrested Oromia News Network journalist Bikila Amenu and his colleague Dessu Dulla in Addis Ababa, the capital, on November 18, 2021. As of late 2021, they were both detained in a police station in the town of Sebata.
Bikila has worked as a reporter and news presenter at the Oromia News Network, a YouTube- and Facebook-based broadcaster, for at least two years, according to two people familiar with his work who spoke to CPJ via messaging app on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
Bikila hosts daily and weekly news roundups on issues including the ongoing war in Ethiopia and human rights violations in Oromia regional state. Previously, he worked with Sagalee Bilisummaa Oromo (SBO), the media wing of the Oromo Liberation Front opposition party, those people said.
On November 18, Bikila and Dessu failed to arrive for work as expected, and were initially thought to be on an unannounced assignment, according to one of those people who spoke to CPJ, who also works at ONN.
The Oromia Media Network, another privately owned broadcaster that covers Oromia, later reported that Bikila had been arrested. The colleague who spoke to CPJ said that ONN learned the two journalists were detained at a police station in Sebata, a town in the outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa that is under the jurisdiction of the Oromia regional government.
Though some of the journalists’ friends were able to visit the Sebata police station in late November, Bikila and Dessu were not allowed to speak with them, according to the two people who spoke to CPJ.
Those people said that they did not believe the two journalists had been brought before any court as of late November. The cause of their arrest was unclear, but the colleague said they thought Bikila and Dessu were targeted for their work, given authorities’ history of arresting ONN journalists. That person also said the two journalists could have been swept up in a mass arrest as a result of the recently declared state of emergency.
Amid an escalating civil war in northern Ethiopia, the federal government declared a nationwide state of emergency on November 2, according to media reports and the state of emergency proclamation. The declaration empowered security officers to detain individuals suspected of links to “terrorist organizations” without producing them in court.
At least 1,000 people were arrested following the declaration of the state of emergency, according to a November 16 statement by Liz Throssell, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Under previous states of emergency in Ethiopia, journalists were repeatedly arrested and faced restrictions on their work, as CPJ has documented.
Bikila was previously arrested alongside former colleagues from SBO in 2019, and was freed after several weeks without charge, as CPJ documented at the time. Police in Oromia previously arrested Dessu alongside his colleagues in March 2020 and ignored court orders to release them.
Several ONN journalists, including Dessu , were arrested again in September 2020, while they were recording a program at an Addis Ababa hotel, and were detained for two weeks without charge, according to media reports.
Oromia regional state Police Commissioner Arasa Merdasa told CPJ in a phone interview in November that he was not aware of Bikila and Dessu ’s detentions and promised to investigate.
Getachew Balcha, the Oromia regional state communication bureau head, did not respond to CPJ’s phone calls in late November 2021.