Ethiopia: Relentless crackdown on journalists covering military conflict

Journalists have been facing increasing threats of arrest and violence in Ethiopia since the start of the war in Tigray. Twelve journalists from two independent media were arrested in late June and reports of atacks against media are common. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urges the authorities to stop targeting the media and take steps to ensure journalists’ safety.

People carry flags for Tigray's pre-war government (L) and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (R) in Mekele, Ethiopia, on July 2, 2021. Credits: YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP

The IFJ denounced the Ethiopian government’s wave of arrests of journalists covering the ongoing conflict in recent months and has renewed its call for action in the face of continued targeting of media in the region. On 30 June, security forces raided the office of the independent media outlet Awlo Media Center, arresting 10 journalists as well as other employees. The police initially refused to provide any explanation, but later stated that the journalists were arrested for alleged affiliation to a terrorist organisation.

On 21 June, journalist Abebe Bayu, who works for the YouTube media Ethio Forum, was arrested. He was in the capital when he was forced into a car and threatened by armed men. Another Ethio Forum journalist, Yayesew Shimelis, was also arrested earlier this year. According to the government, Shimelis was spreading false information.

Both Awlo Media Center and Ethio Forum have recently reported on the armed conflict in the Tigray region between the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) . Human rights organisations and journalists are trying to cover the ongoing war, in which many civilians have died or been attacked.

But since the beginning of the conflict, journalists have been threatened, arrested and censored. In May, the authorities revoked the accreditation of Simon Marks, who covered the conflict for the New York Times and Voice of America, among others. They accused him of spreading fake news. Pressure is also being put on local journalists, who are sometimes forced to flee or to self-censor. In addition, the government has blocked Internet access several times since the conflict began in November.

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: "Ethiopia is taking a real step backward in terms of press freedom and the right to information. We urge the authorities to stop the crackdown on media covering the conflict, and not let attacks on journalists go unpunished."