About ten policemen arrested Kumerra Gemechu at his home, seizing his laptop and several USB sticks, according to his family, who witnessed his arrest. Reuters said the police gave no reason for his arrest and no lawyer was present at the next day’s brief hearing, when a judge ordered him held for a further 14 days to give the police time to investigate.
“After freeing the journalists who were in prison when Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in 2018, the Ethiopian authorities are now going into reverse,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “If the current Ethiopian turmoil is used to arrests journalists arbitrarily, all the press freedom progress of the past two years will have just been a vain and ephemeral parenthesis. This journalist, who was arrested for unclear reasons, must be released, along with the journalists who have been held for several weeks.”
RSF contacted attorney general Gedion Timothewos but, at the time of writing, he had not responded to our request for an explanation.
Journalism is again a dangerous profession in Ethiopia. Torn by ethnic clashes and by open warfare in the northern Tigray region, where the local government no longer recognizes the federal government, Ethiopia is prey to armed clashes and massacres more typical of a civil war, and the situation of journalists has declined dramatically in the past few weeks as a result of the turmoil.
Covering the fighting in Tigray has been virtually impossible because of bans on access and cuts in communications networks. As well as being deprived of information, journalists have also been deprived of their freedom. RSF has registered seven arbitrary arrests of journalists in connection with these events since the start of the hostilities two months ago. Some of these reporters have since been released but two Ethiopian Press Agency journalists – Haftu Gebreegziabher and Tsegaye Hadush – and the Oromia Media Network’s Udi Mussa have been held for the past six weeks.
Ethiopia is ranked 99th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.