Natnael Gecho

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Ethiopian reporter Natnael Gecho was detained in the southern city of Wolaita Sodo in November 2022 and as of December was under investigation for publishing false information and disseminating hate speech. 

Natnael is the founder, chief editor, and a reporter for the Wolaita Times, an online media outlet that covers local news in the southern administrative zone of Wolaita, according to a family member, who spoke to CPJ by phone and requested anonymity due to safety concerns, and CPJ’s review of the outlet’s website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel

The Wolaita Times had 100,000 followers on Facebook and about 1,000 YouTube subscribers in December 2022. In the days prior to Natnael’s arrest, the Wolaita Times released a report on the detention of hundreds of protestors in southern Ethiopia and a report on the release of detained journalists. 

Previously, Natnael worked as an editor and producer at the South Radio and Television Agency, Fana 99.9 FM, and Wogeta 96.6 FM, according to the family member. 

On November 28, four officers who identified themselves as Wolaita Sodo police arrested Natnael at the Wolaita Times office, but refused to disclose the reason for the arrest or produce a warrant, according to the family member. The officers took Natnael to the Wolaita Sodo Police Station. 

Natnael appeared at the Wolaita Sodo First Instance Court’s criminal bench on November 30, where police accused him of tarnishing the image of authorities through an unspecified Facebook account and disseminating misinformation and hate speech, according to court documents CPJ reviewed and the family member. 

In addition to the Wolaita Times, Natnael runs a personal Facebook account where he occasionally publishes critical views of the government.

Police also accused Natnael of undermining the local government, citing a report he wrote about the release of critical journalist Temesgen Desalegn, who was detained for six months, according to the family member. CPJ was unable to locate that report. 

The court granted the police six additional days to investigate the allegations, according to the court documents, which said Natnael was expected back in court on December 5, 2022. 

Natnael has been detained at least three times previously, according to multiple news reports, his family member, and court documents reviewed by CPJ. In September 2020, he was held for a few days; in October 2020, he was detained for two weeks and accused of inciting violence through his Facebook and media work, but was never formally charged; and in February 2021, he was detained and accused of hate speech. 

CPJ called Tesfaye Gowa, head of peace and security of the Wolaita Zone administration, and contacted him via messaging app for comment, but did not receive any replies. 

CPJ’s email to the communication bureau of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ State, in which Wolaita Zone is located, returned an error message. A Facebook message sent to this communication bureau was not immediately answered on December 2.