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CPJ: Ethiopian military detains BBC reporter, translators for AFP and FT

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Nairobi, March 1, 2021 – In response to Ethiopian military forces’ arrests of at least four journalists and media workers covering the conflict in the northern state of Tigray, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:

“The scarcity of independent reporting coming out of Tigray during this conflict was already deeply alarming. Now, the Ethiopian military’s arrests of journalists and media workers will undoubtedly lead to fear and self-censorship,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Ethiopian authorities should release these journalists and media workers immediately and provide guarantees that the press can cover the conflict in Tigray without intimidation.”

On February 27, soldiers arrested two translators—Fitsum Berhane, working with an Agence France-Presse news crew and Alula Akalu, working with the Financial Times—and a local reporter and fixer, Tamrat Yemane, according to reports by the AFP and the FT, and two journalists who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal.

Today, soldiers arrested Girmay Gebru, a reporter with the BBC’s Tigrinya-language service, alongside four other people at a cafe in Mekelle, the state capital, and brought him to a local military camp, according to a report by the broadcaster.

Authorities have not disclosed any reasons for the journalists and translators’ arrests, according to those reports.

This evening, CPJ called Mulu Nega, the head of the Tigray state interim administration, for comment, but he did not answer. In its report, the AFP cited Mulu as saying that Fitsum and Akalu were “under investigation.”

On February 24, the Ethiopian prime minister’s office said in a statement that it had invited journalists from seven international media outlets, including the AFP, BBC, and FT, to report on the conflict in Tigray. Two days later, a ruling party official, Habtay Gebreegziabher, was quoted by the state-owned Ethiopia Press Agency saying that the government would take measures against people he accused of “trying to supply wrong information” to international journalists in Tigray.

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