Haftu Gebregzhiabher, an Ethiopian state-media journalist, was arrested on November 7, 2020. Police claim that Haftu used his position to disseminate distorted information about the conflict between the federal government and forces loyal to a political party in Tigray state.
Haftu is an editor at the Ethiopian Herald, a daily English newspaper that is one of six publications run by the state-owned Ethiopian Press Agency, according to a report by the privately owned news website Addis Standard and Wubshet Kassaw, Haftu’s lawyer, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
On November 7, police arrested Haftu at the Ethiopian Press Agency’s offices in Addis Ababa, along with two of his colleagues, Abreha Hagos and Tsegay Hagos, according to Wubshet.
On November 8, police searched Haftu’s home and confiscated his passport, flash disks, and banking information, according to Wubshet.
On November 9, Haftu, Abreha, and Tsegay appeared in court without a lawyer present, during which police were granted 14 days to hold them in custody without charge, pending investigation, Wubshet said.
On November 23, Haftu and his colleagues appeared at the Federal First Instance Court in Addis Ababa, where police requested more time to investigate them, according to Wubhset and Addis Standard. During that hearing, Abreha, Tsegay. and Haftu’s case were joined with seven other individuals, including Medihane Ekubamichael, an Addis Standard editor, according to that report.
Addis Standard reported that some of the detainees expressed concern at the move to join the cases, and requested that they be dealt with separately.
During the November 23 hearing, the Federal First Instance Court ordered that Haftu and his co-accused remain in detention for eight more days, after police claimed they needed more time to collect statements, banking information, and to arrest potential co-conspirators, Addis Standard reported.
On December 1, Haftu, Abreha, and Tsegay were granted bail, but were not released after police appealed the bail order, according to Wubshet.
On December 2, during an appeal hearing at the Lideta Federal High Court in Addis Ababa, police claimed that all 10 co-accused had collaborated with the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front and others to cause ethnic conflict, to smear the government, and to violate the constitution, according to court documents seen by CPJ.
Police claimed that they had evidence that Haftu had misrepresented the conflict between the federal government and the Tigray state administration in his work as a journalist and had therefore contributed to an escalation of the conflict, according to those documents.
In November 2020, Ethiopia’s federal government launched military operations against the leadership of the northern Tigray state, following months simmering tension and after reports that regional forces had attacked federal military positions, according to media reports.
Wubshet told CPJ that police did not level any specific allegations against Medihane, Tsegay, or Abreha, and that it was unclear what had motivated authorities to target them for arrest.
In early December, Haftu was held at the Addis Ababa Police Commission, also known as Sostegna, according to the three journalists who spoke to CPJ.
In late November, Federal Police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi and the prime minister’s spokesperson, Billene Seyoum, both referred CPJ to the office of the federal attorney general for comment on the case of Haftu and several other detained journalists. That office did not respond to emails from CPJ requesting comment about Haftu.