NAIROBI (Reuters) – A freelance video journalist accredited to the Associated Press and two other local journalists have been detained in Ethiopia, according to police and the country’s media regulator.
Federal police accused the journalists in a statement late on Wednesday of “promoting terrorism” by interviewing members of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), which parliament has designated a terrorist group.
The AP reported that its freelancer, Amir Aman Kiyaro, was detained on Nov. 28 under the country’s war-related state of emergency after returning home from a reporting trip. He has not been charged, the report said.
“These are baseless allegations. Kiyaro is an independent journalist who has done important work in Ethiopia on all sides of the conflict,” AP Executive Editor Julie Pace said in a statement. “We call on the Ethiopian government to release Kiyaro immediately.”
The police statement identified the other detained journalists as independent cameraman Thomas Engida and Addisu Muluneh of the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting network.
Admasu Damtew, chief executive of Fana, declined to comment, saying Addisu’s arrest “doesn’t relate to us.” He did not elaborate.
The journalists could face seven to 15 years behind bars for violating Ethiopia’s state of emergency and anti-terrorism law, federal police Inspector Tesfaye Olani told state media.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed oversaw sweeping reforms when he took office in 2018, including the unbanning of more than 250 media outlets, the release of dozens of journalists and the repeal of some widely criticized media laws.
However, some rights groups say press freedom has eroded since then as the government has faced outbreaks of deadly violence, including the conflict that broke out in the northern Tigray region in November 2020.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 14 journalists have been arrested since a state of emergency was declared on Nov. 2 this year.
Asked about the latest arrests, Ethiopia’s media regulator said police detained the three journalists for “violating the law of the land.”
“They were caught while producing promotional content for a group that has been designated as a terrorist organization,” Mohammed Edris, head of the Ethiopian Media Authority, told Reuters, referring to the OLA.
The OLA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Edris dismissed accusations of a clamp down on media freedom, saying “the reality on the ground is that there are more media outlets and journalists freely working in the country now than ever.”
A spokeswoman for the prime minister did not respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by the Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Nick Tattersall)