Ethiopia urged to release detained journalists
The calls this week by Amnesty International and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) came after Ethiopian authorities arrested at least seven journalists in a latest crackdown during the past two weeks following an anti-government protests in the country’s Amhara region
International rights organizations have urged Ethiopia to stop “arbitrarily arrest” of journalists and to respect citizens right to peaceful protest.
The calls this week by Amnesty International and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) came after Ethiopian authorities arrested at least seven journalists in a latest crackdown during the past two weeks following an anti-government protests in the country’s Amhara region.
The two rights groups urged Ethiopian authorities to immediately release the journalists and drop all charges pressed against them.
In a statement issued Monday, and shared with this publication, Amnesty International said “Ethiopian authorities must immediately release seven media staff detained against a backdrop of rising violence in the Amhara region, investigate allegations of physical assault against one of them and protect the right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest for all”
Amnesty expressed its concern about reports of violations and violence in Amhara, where exchanges of gunfire have been reported in multiple locations, including the killing of two humanitarian workers on April 9 and the mass arrests in the regional and national capital, Addis Ababa.
“Journalists and media workers need to be able to do their work without any threat, intimidation and harassment to effectively carry out their professional duties of informing the public and contributing to holding authorities accountable” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s, Deputy Regional Director, East and Southern Africa.
Amnesty said the recent “chilling arrest” of journalists is an attack on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom.
It also called for an investigation to reports that some of the journalists were violently assaulted by security men during arrest.
“The Government of Ethiopia should promptly, thoroughly, independently, and effectively investigate the incident and bring perpetrators to justice in fair trials” Flavia Mwangovya stressed.
As Ethiopia enters the third month of a government-imposed blockade on selected social media platforms, Amnesty International called on authorities to remove restrictions on human rights offline and online, including the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.
The international press freedom group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) made similar calls recently, urging the Ethiopian government to stop arbitrarily detaining members of the press during times of political tensions.
In a statement issued late last Friday CPJ said Ethiopian authorities have arrested “at least eight journalists” since April 3, in the capital Addis Ababa and elsewhere.
The latest wave of detentions come amid political unrest in Amhara state, as protesters oppose government plans to dissolve regional forces.
CPJ said the journalists remained behind bars “facing allegations which include inciting violence,” adding the reporters “mainly report and comment on political and social issues affecting the Amhara ethnic group,” the country’s second-largest.
All six journalists publish reporting and commentary for privately owned YouTube-based outlets.
“The latest spate of arrests in Ethiopia paints a deeply depressing picture of the state of press freedom in the country,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative.
According to CPJ’s report, security officers allegedly assaulted at least two journalists while in custody.
The New York based rights body urged Ethiopian authorities to immediately release the journalists and investigate allegations of maltreatment.
“Authorities should release all detained journalists, investigate allegations that some members of the press have been mistreated or assaulted while in state custody, and ensure that journalists do not operate in an environment of fear.” Muthoki Mumo added.
The state-run Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have similarly condemned the latest swath of arrests of journalists.
The EHRC said “the government security forces should desist from arrests and intimidation of political parties’ leaders and members, media members and activists.
“When there is a case that they are suspected of crime and there is enough evidence, the arrests should be conducted in a careful manner and only as per the law.”
The commission likewise called for the release of the jailed journalists including some sympathetic to the Amhara ethnic group.
On April 6, the Ethiopian federal government announced a decree to disband paramilitary forces in all the country’s 11 states in pursuit of building “a strong centralized army.”
The decision received support in some regions including in Somali Region, Gambella, South, Benshangul Gumuz, Sidama and in the new Southwest regional state.
However, the decision has received huge opposition in Amhara region and led to a deadly mass protests.
EHRC reported last Wednesday that “civilians were killed and injured as a result of action by the federal security forces or attacks by unidentified persons”.
Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said the decision to dismantle regional military forces “will be implemented even (if we have to) pay a price, for the sake of Ethiopia’s… unity and for the people’s peace.”
On Saturday, Ethiopia’s army chief said the country had completed the dismantling of “special forces” created by some regions, finalizing a policy which sparked the recent unrest.
Estimated over 250,000, the regional forces would be integrated into the federal army or regional police, according to the government’s policy.