The Nation Media Group (NMG) has petitioned the government of Ethiopia over the detention of its Addis Ababa-based correspondent Tesfa-Alem Tekle, who was arrested on October 31 in the capital.
Mr Tesfa was charged in an Addis court with “insulting the ruling party and having links with a terrorist organisation” and released on a 1,000 birr ($21) bail on November 4. However, the authorities did not release him and have been holding him incommunicado since.
In a letter to the country’s Ministry of Justice and copied to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, NMG group Editorial director Mutuma Mathiu said: “We are concerned about the safety of Tesfa and appeal to the authorities to disclose his whereabouts and the circumstances under which he is being held.”
This comes amid complaints of the constriction of media freedoms since the breakout of the war in Tigray in November 2020.
Human and media rights organisations have accused Ethiopian authorities of harassment, arrest and detention of journalists in the course of their work.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says it has noted an increase in cases of harassment and arrest of journalists in the past year.
“CPJ has found a deterioration of press freedom in Ethiopia since the war (in Tigray) started. Even before that we were documenting violations, for instance arrests of journalists and a failure to follow due process in their cases, but this trend became entrenched after the start of the war,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ Sub-Saharan Representative.
“Numerous journalists have been arrested, many of them facing nebulous allegations such as supporting TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) and the police hold them for long pre-charge durations while claiming to carry out investigations. “
“We’ve also seen other types of attacks. Earlier this year, there was a foreign journalist who was expelled from Ethiopia, and we’ve also recorded two incidents in which journalists were assaulted and intimidated for their journalism. What we are seeing is an environment that’s hostile to independent journalism,” she added.
The crisis in Tigray has not been good for media freedom. Foreign media have been barred from Tigray for much of the war, with communications links severed, and both local and foreign journalists have been intimidated and harassed.
In a statement released on November 25, the state warned that “supporting the (rival Tigray forces) directly or indirectly in the name of freedom of speech should cease immediately.”
Security forces would “take measures” against violators, it warned.
Earlier, on November 2, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared a state of emergency, amid reports that Tigrayan fighters and their allies might besiege the capital Addis Ababa.
The six-month state of emergency came with stringent measures on freedoms, with hundreds of Trigrayans reportedly arrested for suspected links with a terrorist organisation—the TPLF.
It allows, among other things, roadblocks, disruption of transport services, internet and media blockades, and a curfew.
The Ethiopian Media Authority has issued warning letters to four international media for “manufacture and dissemination of false news” and news analyses on Ethiopia to assist the TPLF's objectives.
The authority issued the warning letters to the Associated Press, CNN, BBC and Reuters on November 20, saying that it expects the media not to endanger Ethiopia's national interest, territorial integrity, or the peaceful coexistence of the people.
The regulator has been monitoring media outlets and conducting a trend analysis on their reporting patterns on the war.
CPJ is calling for an end to harassment of the media, saying they need to be allowed to operate freely.
“There needs to be a recognition of independent journalism or journalism that does not follow the official line. It’s very important especially at a time like this. The public needs information. From that recognition comes allowing the press to ask those questions that you want to hear and those that you don’t want to hear.