Police arrested Ethiopian journalist Medihane Ekubamichael in November 2020 and accused him of anti-state crimes. At the time of his arrest, he had been covering the conflict between the federal government and forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray state.
Medihane works as the product editor of the privately owned Addis Standard news website, where he manages the publication’s copy flow, according to Addis Standard editor-in-chief Tsedale Lemma, who spoke to CPJ via messaging application.
In the months before his arrest, Medihane also worked as Addis Standard’s lead reporter on the Tigray state, amid heightening tensions between the state and the federal government, according to Tsedale and CPJ’s review of Medihane’s work.
On the afternoon of November 7, police arrested Medihane at his Addis Ababa home, according to Addis Standard and Tsedale. The following day, police searched his home and seized his laptop and identity documents, according to that report.
Medihane appeared in court on November 9 without a lawyer present, and police were granted 14 days to hold him in custody while they investigated allegations that he attempted to “dismantle the constitution through violence” and commit “outrage against the constitution,” according to that report and Tsedale.
However, police released Medihane later in the day on November 9, and told him to report the following day to collect his belongings, according to Tsedale and Medihane’s lawyer, Wubshet Kassaw, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app. When he arrived at the police station on November 10, police arrested him again, they said.
On November 23, Medihane appeared at the Federal First Instance Court in Addis Ababa, where police requested more time to investigate, without formally charging him or providing more specific information about the offenses he was alleged to have committed, according to Wubshet.
During that hearing, Medihane’s case was joined with nine others, including three journalists with the state-owned Ethiopian Press Agency–Haftu Gebregzhiabher, Tsegaye Hagos, and Abreha Hagos–all of whom are facing similar allegations, according to Wubshet. 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.
At the November 23 hearing, the Federal First Instance Court ordered that Medihane 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, Medihane and the three Ethiopian Press Agency journalists were granted bail, but he remained detained as police appealed the order, according to a Facebook post by Addis Standard and Wubshet.
Tsedale told CPJ that she believed Medihane’s arrest was connected to his work leading Addis Standard’s coverage of Tigray state, as well as his Tigrayan ethnic identity.
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.
Following his re-arrest on November 10, Medihane was held at the Addis Ababa Police Commission, also known as Sostegna, Wubshet told CPJ. On November 26, Medihane tested positive for COVID-19, but tested negative on December 2, according to Wubshet.
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 cases of Medihane and several other detained journalists. The office of the federal attorney general did not respond to emails from CPJ requesting comment about Medihane.