Situation in Ethiopia has become grave for journalists; particularly those who are following anti-government protests. Two journalists and a translator were detained for 24 hours on Thursday while covering anti-government protests in Oromia, says the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa (FCAEA).
Bloomberg correspondent William Davison and freelance journalist Jacey Fortin, along with a translator, were arrested for “no reason” at all. Their phones and identification cards were also taken at the time of their arrest.
In a report by Newsweek, Davison said that the risk of reporting in Ethiopia is extremely high.
“It was a shock to be held overnight in a prison cell and not be given any explanation of what we were being held for,” says Davison.
He said that anti-government protests are posing a threat to journalist’s press freedom.
Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organization, ranked Ethiopia at 142 out of 180 countries in its 2015 World Press Freedom Index. During the parliament elections in May 2015, journalists faced verbal and physical threats, arbitrary criminal proceedings and jail sentences. In 2014, six newspapers were shut down and 30 journalists were reported to have fled abroad.
“Ethiopia is well-known for its tough stance on journalists but this is a worrying spike of arbitrary detention of media workers at a time of increased interest in Ethiopia,” says Ilya Gridneff, chairman of FCAEA.
“Journalism is not a crime and those in Ethiopia should not be treated as criminals.”
Oromos is Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. They have been protesting against the government since November, 2015 over the expansion of the capital Addis Ababa. According to Human Rights Watch(HRW), Ethiopian security forces have killed over 140 protesters between November and January.
However,in January, the government dropped the plan of expanding Addis Ababa. But demonstrators continued to protest against the government. They “are still being subjected to lethal force”, said HRW.
Entangled in the Oromia protest, Ethiopians are facing the worst drought in 50 years, due to change in El Nino’s weather patterns. Over 15 million people need emergency humanitarian food assistance. United Nations has also urged global donors to provide more fiscal support.