Elias Gebru was arrested at the Romina Hotel in Addis Ababa on November 17, 2016, according to Enateyee Enat, a friend of the journalist who has followed his case closely from exile in the U.S. Elias was at the hotel to utilize its internet connection to post new information on social media about the jailed journalists Woubshet Taye and Temesgen Desalegn, Enateyee told CPJ.
Elias is the former editor-in-chief of the bi-weekly magazine Addis Getse–which closed earlier this year–and the independent news magazine Enku, which closed in 2014. Authorities issued a statement in 2014 accusing Enkuand other independent outlets of spreading false information and inciting violence, according to reports. Elias was arrested in 2014 in relation to a column in Enku about a controversial monument to ethnic Oromos massacred in the 19th century, CPJ reported at the time. According to Habtamu Assefa, an exiled Ethiopian journalist in the U.S., Elias faces criminal defamation charges in connection to that column and has attended 23 court hearings in the case since November 2014. The next court date was scheduled for December 29, 2016, Habtamu said.
After the magazines closed, Elias used Facebook to post news about the situation in Ethiopia; his public Facebook page has more than 14,500 followers. Elias was critical on Facebook of the ruling TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) and the state of emergency declared by authorities in October after months of unrest. Habtamu said Elias posted daily about harsh treatment of citizens and human rights abuses, including the detention of politicians and journalists.
Elias also gave frank commentary on Voice of America and on diaspora radio stations including Hiber based in Las Vegas, Enateyee told CPJ.
In a September 20, 2016 Facebook post, Elias said he had received emailed death threats from an unknown person, Habtamu told CPJ.
As of November 30, 2016, no new charges against Elias had been disclosed. Ethiopian Communications Minister Negeri Lencho did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment in late 2016.
Elias was in Megenagna prison in Addis Ababa. Friends who visited him told Enateyee that he was suffering from stomach cramps because of the dirty water in prison and that they suspected he had been beaten.