On January 19, 2021, unidentified attackers shot and killed Dawit Kebede Araya, a reporter with the state-owned broadcaster Tigray TV, and his friend, Bereket Berhe, in Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray state, according to media reports and four people familiar with the case who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retaliation.
Dawit and Bereket were driving near the journalist’s home at the time of the attack; their bodies were found the following day with gunshot wounds, and buried later that day, according to Reuters. The whereabouts of two other people who were in the car with Dawit and Bereket at the time were unclear as of late February 2021, according to two other people who spoke to CPJ, also on condition of anonymity.
One of the people who spoke to CPJ visited the scene of the attack on January 20, and said that they found the car with bullet holes in the windshield and rear window, and said the vehicle seemed to have crashed into a tree.
In a statement, the Ethiopia Human Rights Council, an independent watchdog group, alleged that unspecified government security forces had killed Dawit and Bereket, potentially for violating the region’s dusk-to-dawn curfew. The Addis Standard news website and Agence France-Presse also cited anonymous sources saying that they believed security forces were responsible for the killings.
In the days before his killing, Dawit had been detained by police: on January 16 he was held at a station in Mekelle for several hours, and summoned to appear again on January 18, according to the Addis Standard and Reuters reports. Reuters reported that Dawit was questioned about Tigray TV’s coverage of the conflict in the state, which broke out in November 2020.
In Tigray TV clips on social media, Dawit can be seen covering Tigray People’s Liberation Front forces’ alleged shooting down of an Ethiopian plane in November. The Ethiopian government later disputed that report as “false,” according to reports.
Tigray TV was offline for several weeks in late 2020, but Dawit had recently resumed work, according to BBC Amharic and one of the people who spoke to CPJ, who is a friend and former colleague of the journalist.
In a January 2021 interview with the privately owned Ethiopian Satellite Television broadcaster, Mulu Nega, the head of Tigray’s interim administration, said that officials were carrying out an investigation into Dawit’s killing, and encouraged people to follow the region’s curfew.
Mulu, Atakliti Haile Silassie, the mayor of Mekele, and Redwan Hussein, the spokesperson of the federal government’s emergency task force, did not respond to multiple calls and text messages from CPJ in January and March 2021.