Ethiopian journalist Dawit Kebede was arrested on November 30, 2020. Police accused him of disseminating false information, incitement to violence, and violating the constitution, but had yet to file charges as of early December.
Dawit is the managing editor of Awramba Times, an online news outlet that he originally founded as a newspaper in 2007, but which he was forced to shutter after he went into exile in 2011, as CPJ documented at the time. In 2010, Dawit received CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in recognition of his work in the face of government obstruction and harassment. He returned from exile in 2013, according to a report by Awramba Times.
Prior to Dawit’s arrest, Awramba Times was publishing news content on YouTube and Facebook, including commentary on the ongoing conflict between the Ethiopian federal government and forces in Tigray state, according to CPJ’s review of those pages. Awramba Times has about 41,000 followers on Facebook, and its YouTube videos regularly receive tens of thousands of views.
Dawit’s U.S-based brother, Bisrat Bahta, told CPJ that Dawit was also vocal about Ethiopian politics and current affairs on his personal Facebook and Twitter accounts.
On the evening of November 30, security personnel in Addis Ababa, the capital, arrested Dawit in a restaurant while he was dining with his friends, according to Bisrat and the journalist’s wife Tigest, both of whom spoke to CPJ via messaging app. On December 1, police officers searched Dawit’s home, confiscating magazines, recording devices, books, cellphones, and CDs, they said.
On December 2, Dawit was brought to the Federal First Instance Court, Arada Branch, where police accused him of disseminating inaccurate information, inciting violence, and attempting to violate the constitution, according to a report the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporation and the privately owned news website Addis Standard. The court granted police permission to hold Dawit for 13 days, pending their investigation, according to those reports.
In the days before his arrest, Dawit’s tweets included allegations that the Ethiopian government was ethnically profiling people of Tigrayan identity; allegations that security personnel were barring refugees from fleeing Tigray to Sudan; and a suggestion that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had mischaracterized the demographics of refugees fleeing from Tigray to Sudan.
In November 2020, the Ethiopian federal government and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which ruled in the state, engaged in a military confrontation following months of simmering tensions, according to media reports.
Bisrat told CPJ that for at least two months Dawit had stopped uploading new original content on the Awramba Times YouTube page, out of concern for his safety and that of his colleagues.
On November 22, Awramba Times republished an interview, already circulating online, with a person who accused the federal government of declaring war on Tigray. The federal government has characterized the conflict in Tigray as a law-enforcement operation, not a war, according to a government statement and media reports.
On November 28, Awramba Times republished a March 2020 interview with Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front. In that video, Debretsion spoke critically of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his party.
In early December 2020, Dawit remained detained at the Addis Ababa Police Commission, also known as Sostegna, according to his wife.
The office of the federal attorney general did not respond to a December 2020 email requesting comment on Dawit’s arrest.
When CPJ reached him via messaging app, Federal Police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi said he did not know about Dawit’s case and referred CPJ to the prime minister’s office for comment. CPJ emailed that office on December 3 and did not receive any response.