Genet Asmamaw

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Genet Asmamaw was arrested in April 2023 in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. She was charged with terrorism in June, alongside 50 co-defendants, three of whom were journalists. Genet, who could face the death penalty if convicted, joined a hunger strike in May to protest what detainees described as political persecution. As of late 2023, she was in prison awaiting trial. 

Genet 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. 

Genet is a reporter with the YouTube-based Medlot Media, which is part of the Yegna Media group, and covers political issues related to the Amhara people, according to her brother Andualem Demissie. The channel had over 100,000 subscribers as of late 2023, according to CPJ’s review.

On April 6, 2023, five federal police officers arrested Genet from her home, according to her lawyer, Henok Aklilu, Andualem, and news reports

During her arrest, Genet was beaten and intimidated, those sources said. In audio recorded during the arrest, published by several media outlets and authenticated by Henok, an officer said, “Beat her; kick her,” and Genet said, “Do not beat me. Why are you hitting me? Why are you kidnapping me without a court order?”

On April 7, Genet appeared at the Federal First Instance Court and was accused of inciting violence through social media and other platforms and mobilizing young people to overthrow the government, Henok said. She was not charged but police were granted time to hold her in custody pending investigations.

Genet told the court that she had been subjected to abusive treatment by the police during her arrest, and the court ordered the federal police to investigate, Henok said. CPJ was unable to determine whether the investigation had been carried out. 

Genet was among at least eight journalists and media workers arrested that month over allegations that included inciting violence. Five were later released.

The arrests followed the government’s April 6 controversial decision to integrate regional militia into the federal army, which triggered protests. In Amhara, the Amhara Regional Special Forces refused to surrender their weapons and the Fano militia took up arms against federal forces—their former allies 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.

On April 30, the Ethiopian Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force published a statement accusing Genet and 46 others of involvement in terrorism in the Amhara state.

On May 16, Genet and 44 other detainees at the federal police detention center went on a three-day hunger strike, without food or water, to protest what they described as political persecution in the Amhara region, according to Henok and a demand letter by the detainees, reviewed by CPJ. 

On June 7, the federal Ministry of Justice formally filed charges against Genet and 50 other people, including three other journalists—Meskerem Abera and Dawit Begashaw, who were arrested in April, and Gobeze Sisay, who was arrested in May—according to a charge sheet reviewed by CPJ. 

Prosecutors accused the four journalists of violating Article 3(2) of the Proclamation on Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism, which stipulates that those found guilty of “terrorizing or spreading fear among the public” … “with the intention of advancing political, religious or ideological causes” can be given the death penalty, according to the charge sheet. 

Prosecutors said that Genet participated in meetings and discussions and received propaganda training from the Amhara Fano Unity Council, which they described as a “clandestine organization, which the defendants used to do their terrorist activities” by bringing together militant groups, including the Fano militia. They also said she distributed a letter calling on military officers to defect and edited and distributed propaganda via social media platforms. 

After multiple court appearances before the Lideta branch of the Federal High Court, Genet and her co-defendants were denied bail on July 19, according to Henok. The following day, she was transferred to the capital’s Kaliti Federal Maximum Security Prison.

In court hearings in October and November, the defendants’ application for their case to be dismissed on the grounds that it was politically motivated was rejected, Henok said. According to Henok and a BBC Amharic report, the Federal Supreme Court in early December suspended their trial for an indefinite period, pending a ruling by that court on the status of other co-defendants who were charged in absentia.

In December 2023, federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi told CPJ in an emailed statement that he could not comment on the detention of Genet and other journalists since the August 4 declaration of a state of emergency in response to conflict in the Amhara state 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