By Mahlet Fasil
About a dozen journalists and media personalities were arrested in a span of three days, reports said. The arrests were made in Bahir Dar, the capital of the Amhara region, and Addis Abeba according to information acquired from the media houses and families of the detainees.
The crackdown was first reported on May 19 when the digital media, Ashara media, and the foreign-based broadcast TV channel Nisir International Broadcasting Corporation announced the arrest of their staff members.
Ashara media announced the arrest of 5 members of its staff on May 19, 2022. The media house listed the names of its staffers, Kelemu Gelagay Akene, Daniel Mesfin, its cameramen and editors as well as its journalists Gashaye Nigussie Ferede, Getenet Yalew and Habtamu Melese. Addis Standard learned that they had not appeared in court until the publication of this news.
Similarly, Nisir Media has also notified its social media followers that on the 19th of May, at approximately 4:45 PM local, security forces along with Amhara regional police ‘illegally’ encircled its studio and arrested 3 of its journalists and confiscated electronic materials.
The next day, Solomon Shumiye, a host of the Youtube channel Gebeyanu was also arrested on May 20, 2022. His arrest occurred after he went to the police station in search of his sister who was also arrested there. She has since been freed, but Solomon remains in custody.
Tigist Shumiye, Solomon’s sister, told Reuters that Solomon has appeared in court following his arrest along with three other suspects and that the court granted 14 days to the police to remand and investigate him.
Speaking to Addis Standard, Tigist stated that Solomon has been detained at the Third Division Police Station, commonly called Sostegna, in Addis Abeba and said his next court appearance will be on May 30.
In continuation of such arrests, Meskerem Abera, a university lecturer and political commentator was arrested by security forces at Bole International Addis Ababa Airport after touching down in Addis Abeba from a Bahir Dar outbound flight on May 21. She appeared in the Arada Division of the Federal Court of First Instance in Addis Abeba yesterday.
At the hearing, the investigative police told the court that it is investigating Meskerem on the suspicion of “inciting riots and creating mistrust between the Amhara region and the Federal government” and requested 14 days to remand until it arrests her collaborators.
The defendant’s attorneys, on their part, argued that the police’s request, while detaining their client, was in violation of media freedom and was inappropriate. They argued that the suspects had been working on the media publicly. Explaining that if their client had committed a crime, she would not have been able to operate in public and be arrested at Bole airport, her lawyers said. They also requested the court to grant her bail stating she was breastfeeding a 7-month-old baby and had a permanent place of residence.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) voiced its concerns over what it called ‘unlawful arrests’ in a statement released on Sunday. Commissioner Daniel Bekele (P.h.D) said, “Federal and regional security forces should refrain from arresting suspects before criminal investigations and imprisoning journalists because of their work and arresting people irrespective of a court warrant and notify family members when individuals are arrested as well bring them before a court.”