Analysis: Less than three years after declaring “new era”, Ethiopia is back in the list of countries jailing journalists. We traced 33 cases

Mahlet Fasil @MahletFasil

Addis Abeba, December 16/2020 – Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s stellar speech about freedom of press on world freedom day is fresh in the memory of many Ethiopians who were full of optimism about the reform that swept the nation at the time. At the 26th World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) hosted by Ethiopia on May 03/2019, PM Abiy proudly referred to the day: “The symbolism of this grand gesture is even more important, given that only one year ago Ethiopia was labelled as Africa’s foremost jailer of journalists and one of the most repressive environments in the world for the functioning of independent news.”

In the same year, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Ethiopia 110th out of 180 countries surveyed for its 2019 World Press Freedom Index – 40 places improvement from the 150th rank the year before. The huge jump in the ranking was attributed to the reforms promised and undertaken by PM Abiy.

Fast forward to the present, Addis Standard traced the cases for 33 journalists who have been in and out of, as well as who remain in police custody since May 2019.

This year’s RSF Index placed Ethiopia at 99th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index, rising up 11 places from where it was the previous year.

Similarly, Ethiopia was included among the countries where the number of jailed journalists rose significantly according to a fresh report released yesterday by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ.) Journalists have been subject to imprisonment globally many of whom for covering COVID-19 or political instability. The CPJ linked the arrest of journalists in Ethiopia to political unrest. Most of the journalists are accused of anti-state crimes according to the report. It has also pointed out that authorities have repeatedly extended their detention in order to investigate, without producing evidence.

The report found at least 274 journalists in jail in relation to their work on December 1, 2020. It also showed that there are currently seven journalists who are in police custody in Ethiopia amid the conflict. The prison census accounts only for journalists in government custody In it’s extensive list, CPJ

Worldwide, at least one other journalist died after contracting the virus in custody as stated in the report. As a result, the CPJ joined with 190 other groups to urge world leaders to release all journalists jailed for their work in the #FreeThePress campaign.

Most of the journalists  are accused of anti-state crimes according to the report. It has also pointed out that authorities have repeatedly extended their detention in order to investigate, without producing evidence.

Here is an archive of arrested journalists as of May, 2019.

Tamerat Abera of  Ahadu Radio  was arrested on May 24 2019. The reason for his arrest was a story he reported about a land grab scheme in Sendafa town, Oromia. He was taken by Oromia police from his working station. He was released three days later with the warrant of a national ID.

Mesganaw Getachew is a reporter at Ethiopis weekly newspaper. He was arrested twice in the year 2019 alone. The  first time was on May 22, 2019 police assaulted him and arrested while he was reporting on the demolition of homes in Arat Kilo, Addis Abeba.  The second one was on August 9, 2019 while he was interviewing a lawyer outside the Arada First Instance court. He was arrested for illegally filming within the court compound. He was released on bail.

Yayesaw Shimelis, a journalist and producer on Tigray TV and Ethio-Forum YouTube channel was  arrested on March 27, 2020 by Addis Abeba police. He was arrested for his posing on his personal Facebook page, an information that implies that the government has ordered the preparation of 200,000 mass burial sites for the fear of Covid-19 related deaths. He was charged with terrorism and contravening the hate speech and disinformation prevention and suppression proclamation 1185/2012 article 5 and 7/4. He was released on 30,000 ETB bail for terrorism and 40,000 ETB for misinformation and set free after 27 days in prison.

Journalists Temesgen Desalegn and Misgan Zinabe were arrested on October 15,2020 for publishing a piece about Addis Abeba city deputy mayor Adanech Abiebie on October 10th edition of Fiteh magazine.  They were released the next day without pressing charges or demanding bail.

Nine journalists and camera crew from the TV channel ONN (Oromia News Network) were arrested on September 05,2020. They were recording a new years special in Addis Abeba when the arrest took place. The police accused them of preparing to incite violence in collaboration with the rebel group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA). Dassu Duulaa, Bahillu Nacho, Soraa Jirmaa, Sabboontuu Ahmed, Getachew Alemayehu, Habtaamu Abera, Baayisaa Turaa, Binyam Yonas and Sinboo Dajanee stayed in prison for 3 days. Dassu Dula, Biniyam Yonas, Baayisaa Tura were released on 30,000 ETB, 20,000 ETB, 10,000ETB respectively. The remaining were released on 6000 ETB bail.

Belay Manaye ,Mulugeta Anberbir and Misganaw Kefelegn, journalists from Asrat Media were taken by federal police on July 05, 2020. They were accused of enticing violence through their broadcast. After 46 days in prison, they were released on 10,000ETB bail each.

Nathaniel Gech is the owner of the Facebook page Wolaita Times and a journalist. He was arrested twice within a span of two months. First he was arrested on September 1, 2020 and released on September 4,2020 without bail. Then he was detained for 12 days from October 6-18 2020. He was accused of motivating the people against the government and allegedly posting provocative articles on the Facebook page, Wolaita Times page. This time he was released on 30,000ETB bail.

Gettya Yalew is a journalist at  Ethiopi’s The reason for his arrest was his reporting on the incidents in Metekel Zone in Benishangul regional state.  After four days in prison (October 1- 5), he was released on a warrant of a national ID card without being brought to the court.

Two journalists and a camera man from Sagalee Bilisummaa Oromo (SBO) were arrested on October 14, 2020. Wako Nole, Bikila Amenu and Ibsa Gadisa were taken from the premises of OLF headquarters where  the chairman of the party was holding a press conference. They were detained for a  day after which they were released on a warrant of a national ID card.

Ermias Mulugeta the editor in chief of Addis Maleda, a weekly newspaper was arrested on October 26, 2020.  After 9 hours in prison he was released without bail.

 On July 2,2020 Yassin Juma, a Kenyan freelance  journalist, was arrested because he was found at Jawar Mohammed’s residence. He was accused of  inciting etnhic violence and plotting to kill senior Ethiopian Officials.  After 49 days in prison he was released on a 4000 ETB bail.

 Journalists who work for Oromia Media Network  (OMN) were arrested after revolutionary singer Hachalu Hundessa was gunned down on June 29, 2020. One of them is Guyo Wario, the journalist who interviewed artist Hacaluu Hundessa about a week prior to his assasination. Guyo was arrested by the federal police on July 17,2020.  After 45 days in prison he was released on 10,000ETB bail. Mohammed Siraj , an OMN anchorman was arrested on July 18, 2020 by Addis Abeba  police for enticing ethnic violence. After 42 days in prison, he was released on a 4000 ETB bail. Melese Diribssa is the news director at OMN. He was arrested on July 2, 2020 for attempting to “forcefully take Hachalu Hundessa’s body” the day it was being escorted to his hometown Ambo. Layer, judges at the Federal First Instance Court Arada Branch released on bail of 3000 ETB but the prosecutor charged him at Federal Supreme Court; Lideta Branch Criminal Bench in connection with the content of the broadcast of after the assassination of Hachalu Hundessa.  The editors invited guests who spoke of avenging the death of Hachalu on a live broadcast using graphic terms and targeting a certain Ethnic group.

Medhanie Ekubamichael, product editor at Addis standard was arrested on Saturday November 07, 2020 by Addis Abeba and a federal police officer. After two days Medihane appeared at court and the police accused him of attempting to dismantle the constitution through violence and “outrage against the constitution.” The court granted the 14 days the police asked to remand and investigate. On the same day, he was released on a warrant of a national ID. However, he was rearrested the very next day when he went back to the police station to collect his personal belongings, including his passport and laptop. Medhanie appeared in court on November 23, 2020 where the session was adjourned until December 1, 2020. He remained in prison where he contracted Coronavirus. On December 1, 2020 the judges at the Federal First Instance Court granted a bail amount of 10,000 ETB. But the decision was repealed by Lideta Higher court December 2, 2020. Medhanie was released on December 9, 2020 and his charges were dropped.

 Bekalu Almirew is a journalist at an online media named Awlo Media. On November 04, 2020, he was taken away from his workplace by Addis Abeba police. Bekalu appeared in 2 days later and he was accused of disseminating false information and defaming the Ethiopian government. He was granted 10,000ETB bail after 16 days in prison.

 Journalists from state owned media, the Ethiopian Press Agency (EPA)  were not spared in the arrests. They are journalists Haftom G/Egizabeherand Tsegaye Hagosare both Editors at the state owned Ethiopian Herald Newspaper published by EPAl; and Abreha Hagos Reporter at Al-Alem , the Arabic version of EPA. They were arrested on November 7, 2020. The federal police put them in a file along with 7 other detainees (including Medhanie EkubaMIchael) and presented their case at the federal first instance court. On December 1, 2020 the judges at the Federal First Instance Court granted a bail amount of 10,000 ETB each for the four journalists who had been in custody for over three weeks. However, the decision was repealed by Lideta Higher court and granted the police additional 14 days to investigate and trace potential collaborators on December 2, 2020. They all remain in police custody waiting for their next appointment on December 24, 2020.

Dawit Kebede, founder and managing editor of the YouTube channel Awramba times was arrested on November 30. He appeared in federal first instance court Arada branch after 3 days in custody. He was accused of attempting to instigate violence and deliberate dispensation of false information. Dawit remains in custody waiting for his next court appearance on December 25, 2020.  The police were given 14 days for further investigation. AS

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