The Foreign Correspondents’ Association of East Africa (FCAEA) is concerned about an escalation of the threat to press freedom in Ethiopia after the recent 24-hour detention of two accredited journalists and their translator.
Journalists in Ethiopia have for years faced obstacles to press freedom. Now, two ongoing news events — a drought in the Ethiopia’s eastern regions, and protests across the central Oromia region — have called for increased travel outside of the capital Addis Ababa, which has become difficult due to a high security presence.
Arbitrary detentions, which typically last a few hours, were already a common impediment for accredited journalists in Ethiopia. But the recent 24-hour detention marks a worrying escalation.
William Davison, a correspondent for Bloomberg in Ethiopia; freelance journalist Jacey Fortin; and their translator were traveling in eastern Ethiopia on March 3rd when they were detained on the main road near Awash town, Afar region, at 12:40 p.m. by the Federal Police. Their phones and identification cards were taken during the arrest.
The three were escorted by Federal Police on a four-hour drive back to Addis Ababa. They were then briefly taken to an office of the security services, held overnight at a police station jail, and released around noon on March 4th. The authorities never offered a reason for the detention.
“Over the last five years, I have been detained multiple times in Ethiopia. I think reporting on certain topics has now become too risky because of the threat of detainment,” said Davison. “Until the government makes a genuine commitment to media freedom, it will be impossible for journalists to report safely with accuracy and integrity.”
The FCAEA is equally concerned about the dangers faced by translators, fixers and local journalists, who have no support from foreign embassies or international news organizations.
“Every time I’ve been detained while working in Ethiopia, I’ve felt that my translator has been most at risk,” said Fortin. “They are often asked to produce a media license like mine, despite the fact that such documentation is not available to translators.”
These threats are making reporting in Ethiopia increasingly difficult. We hope that dialogue with the relevant government agencies, including the security services, can begin to resolve the problem.