Three journalists detained in Ethiopia, transferred to military camp

Mekelle:  30 April 2024 (Tigray Herald)

Three journalists detained in Ethiopia, transferred to military camp

Tewodros Zerfu was one of the journalists arrested in #Ethiopia in August 2023 shortly after the declaration of a state of emergency.

Days after his arrest, Tewodros was transferred from the capital Addis Ababa to Awash Arba military camp in eastern Ethiopia, where he remains without access to family or legal counsel.

Tewodros has not been charged with a crime. He should be freed unconditionally.

Tewodros Zerfu Imprisoned

Yegna TV, Menelik Television | Imprisoned in Ethiopia | August 26, 2023

Photo Credit: Screenshot: YouTube/Yegna TV

CPJ’s annual census is a snapshot of those imprisoned at midnight on December 1 each year. It does not include those jailed and released throughout the year.

Job:Columnist/Commentator, Internet ReporterMedium:Internet

Beats Covered:PoliticsGender:Male

Local or Foreign:LocalFreelance:No

Charge:No charge disclosedSentence:Not sentenced

Reported Health Problems:No

Tewodros Zerfu of Yegna TV was arrested in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on August 26, 2023, accused of breaching a state of emergency that was declared on August 4 in response to conflict in the Amhara region. He was transferred to a military camp, where he was held without charge, and joined a hunger strike to protest poor conditions. 

He is one of eight Ethiopian journalists in CPJ’s 2023 prison census who were arrested during the year after reporting on the Amhara region, Ethiopia’s second most-populous region. 

Tewodros co-hosts “Yegna Forum,” a biweekly political program on the online outlet Yegna TV. As of late 2023, Yegna TV had over 600,000 YouTube subscribers and over 2.5 million Facebook followers. 

In addition, Tewodros is a commentator for the online outlet Menelik Television, with over 192,000 followers on Facebook, and a teacher at a private school in Addis Ababa. 

On August 26, 2023, police arrested Tewodros while he was chatting with a friend at a cafe in Addis Ababa, according to Yegna TV, Menelik Television, his sister Seblework Zerfu, and Yegna TV founder Engidawork Gebeyehu.

Seblework told CPJ that the police officers did not accuse Tewodros of any specific offense but said the arrest was made under legal provisions introduced when a six-month state of emergency was declared on August 4 in response to conflict in the Amhara state—which Tewodros had criticized. He had also questioned the neutrality of the federal army in the conflict. 

In Amhara, the Fano militia were fighting federal forces in a conflict that began in April, after the federal government announced a controversial decision to integrate regional militia into the federal army. The Fano were previously allied with the federal government in a civil war in northern Ethiopia that ended with a peace deal in November 2022. The Amhara conflict was ongoing as of late 2023.

The state of emergency law, reviewed by CPJ, gives security personnel wide powers of arrest and suspends the due process of law, including the right to appear before a court and receive legal counsel. Ordinarily, Article 19 of Ethiopia’s constitution requires police to produce detained persons in court within 48 hours. 

Hundreds of people were arrested in the months following the declaration of a state of emergency, according to news reports, including at least eight journalists with a record of covering the Amhara conflict. In addition to Tewodros, three other journalists arrested after the state of emergency—Abay Zewdu, Belay Manaye, and Bekalu Alamrew—remained detained in late 2023 and are included in CPJ’s prison census.

Tewodros was initially held at the federal police detention center in Addis Ababa and was later transferred to a military camp in Awash Arba, some 240 kilometers (145 miles) east, according to Seblework and a September 2 statement by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (ERHC), a statutory watchdog. CPJ could not determine the exact date of Tewodros’ transfer. 

In October 2023, Tewodros and 28 other detainees in Awash Arba military camp took part in a three-day hunger strike, without food or water, in protest over deprivation of medical care, food, and clean water, and what they described as political persecution in the Amhara region, according to Seblework and a letter written by the detainees, reviewed by CPJ. 

In December 2023, federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi told CPJ in an emailed statement that he could not comment on the detention of Tewodros and other journalists under the state of emergency and referred CPJ to the command post, which was established to oversee the state of emergency.

As of late 2023, CPJ’s queries via email and messaging app to the federal ministry of justice, and government spokesperson Legesse Tulu, who is a member of the state of emergency command post and has issued statements on behalf of the body, did not receive any responses.

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 Journalists Tewodros Zerfu (left) and Nigussie Berhanu discuss the conflict that led to Ethiopia’s state of emergency on a Yegna TV program on August 16. Days later, both were arrested. A third journalist was arrested in early September and all three have been detained, sources told CPJ. (Screenshot: YouTube/Yegna TV)


Three journalists detained in Ethiopia, transferred to military camp

October 5, 2023 2:17 PM EDT

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Nairobi, October 5, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday called on Ethiopian authorities to immediately release three journalists detained in late August and early September, and expressed grave concern about a pattern of detaining journalists amid an ongoing state of emergency.

On August 26, 2023, police arrested Tewodros Zerfu, a presenter and program host with the online media outlets Yegna TV and Menelik Television, while he was chatting with a friend at a cafe in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, according to reports from the outlets and accounts from his sister Seblework Zerfu and Yegna TV founder Engidawork Gebeyehu, who spoke to CPJ by messaging app.

Four days later, on August 30, two security officers in civilian clothing arrested Nigussie Berhanu, a political analyst and co-host of, “Yegna Forum,” a biweekly political show on Yegna TV, according to Yegna TV reports, Engidawork, and a family member who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns.

On September 11, seven federal police officers arrested Yehualashet Zerihun, the program director of the privately owned station Tirita 97.6 FM, at his residence in Addis Ababa, according to a report by Tirita and Yehualashet‘s wife Meron Jembere, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. Meron said she had not been given any specific reason for his arrest to date.

The three journalists were initially detained at the Federal Police Crime Investigation Center in the capital of Addis Ababa, but have since been transferred to a temporary detention center at a military camp in Awash Arba, a town in Afar State that is about 240 miles (145 kilometers) east of Addis Ababa, according to the people who spoke to CPJ. Those sources said they were not aware of the journalists being presented in court or formally charged with a crime.

“The detention of journalists at a military camp, under unclear judicial oversight, is a deeply worrying sign of the depths to which Ethiopia’s regard for the media has sunk,” said CPJ sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities should release journalists Tewodros Zerfu, Yehualashet Zerihun, and Nigussie Berhanu, as well as other members of the press detained for their work.”

Ethiopia declared a six-month state of emergency on August 4, 2023, in response to the conflict in northern Amhara state involving federal government forces and the Fano, an armed militia, according to media reports. Since then, CPJ has documented the detention of at least four other journalists in Addis Ababa, two of whom remain detained, also in Awash Arba.

The state of emergency legislation gives security personnel sweeping powers of arrest and permits the suspension of due process of law, including the right to appear before a court and receive legal counsel.

In addition to his role as a program director, Yehualashet was a host and co-host of three weekly radio shows, “Negere Kin,” “Semonegna,” and “Feta Bekidame,” focusing on art and social issues.

According to CPJ’s review of their work, Tewodros and Nigussie usually appeared together on Yegna TV’s regular program, “Yegna’s Forum,” and their commentary and reporting is published on Yegna TV’s YouTube channel, which has over 600,000 subscribers. Yegna Forum is a mostly political program, which has been critical of the Ethiopian government. Prior to their detention, they had discussed the ongoing Amhara conflict, criticizing the passing of the state of emergency decree, and questioning the neutrality of the Ethiopian National Defense Force.

A few days before his detention, Nigussie made a Facebook post in which he alleged that he was “perceived as a threat” to the government, and had been “identified as a target.”

CPJ’s queries sent via email to federal police spokesperson Jeylan Abdi and the office of the federal minister of justice were unanswered. Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not respond to queries sent via messaging app and text message.

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