Mekonnen Yibrah, a former radio reporter for the state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation’s (EBC) Tigrigna language service until his dismissal in August 2021, was arrested on November 16, 2021.
On November 4, police had raided the homes of Mekonnen and another former EBC reporter, Teklehaimanot Girmai, who was detained at that time, according to a relative of Teklehaimanot who is also familiar with Mekonnen’s case and who spoke to CPJ via messaging app on condition of anonymity for safety concerns. The police were not able to find Mekonnen for about 10 days, and then they initially held him at the Addis Ababa Police Commission, Teklehaimanot’s relative said. Two journalists who looked into Mekonnen’s arrest, but who requested anonymity for safety concerns, told CPJ via messaging app that the reporter was arrested on November 16. Mekonnen was later transferred to Gurara Youth Center, which functioned as a makeshift detention center, the two journalists familiar with Mekonnen’s arrest said. Teklehaimanot’s relative said they believed Mekonnen and Teklehaimanot were arrested due to their Tigrayan ethnicity and work at the EBC, particularly the programming that led to their suspension.
The EBC accused Mekonnen of reporting in a manner that was supportive of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a rebel group fighting against the Ethiopian federal government in an ongoing civil war, according to the documents reviewed by CPJ. He was detained during a media crackdown following the state of emergency declared November 2 amid an ongoing civil war.
He was released on January 18, 2022, the two journalists familiar with Mekonnen’s arrest said.
When CPJ called the EBC for comment in December 2021, the person who answered the phone requested queries via email; CPJ’s communication to the address provided was undelivered. People who answered CPJ’s two subsequent calls to the EBC could not be heard clearly. In December 2021, federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi told CPJ via telephone that there were no journalists detained in Ethiopia for their professional work but rather for “violation of the existing law of the country,” without addressing specific cases.
Mekonnen was not initially included in CPJ’s 2021 prison census because CPJ was unaware of his case at the time. In late 2022, the 2021 prison census was updated to include Mekonnen.