Thursday, October 28, 2021

Ethiopian journalist released as advocacy groups condemn arrest, demand answers

Journalist Tesflame Valdis, founder and editor-in-chief of Ethiopian news and analysis website Ethiopia Insider, was released on Tuesday after spending three days in police custody.

“I just spoke to him,” said Eshet Bekele, a journalist with Deutsche Welle’s Amharic Service and a former Tesfalem aide. “He just got out,” she told VOA.

Ahead of his release, Tesfalem’s aides and friends said his whereabouts had not been traced since Saturday, but federal police confirmed his detention at the BBC’s Amharic service, saying there was nothing to worry about. Police did not provide any explanation or additional details for the arrest.

According to media reports, Tesflame had access to a lawyer and was held for questioning at the Federal Police Commission near Mexico Square.

Befekadu Hailu, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Rights and Democracy, said Tesfalem went missing after covering the Iricha festival in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Iricha is a cultural event celebrated by the ethnic Oromo community of Ethiopia.

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Befeqadu said via Twitter that Tesfalem’s plan for Sunday was to report on the festival, which also took place at a second location, Bishotu.

The annual event is traditionally held in Bishoftu, a town located in the Oromia region, about 40 kilometers south of Addis Ababa.

After covering the event in Addis Ababa, Tesfalem posted a video on Ethiopia Insider’s Facebook page in which attendees expressed their criticism of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration.

The attendees chanted “Jwar, Jawar!” Raising the slogan, they also demanded the release of political prisoners.

People show an Oromo Protest gesture while raising anti-government slogans during the Iricha Festival, an Oromo People Thanksgiving celebration at Hora Finfini in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on October 2, 2021.

Oromo activist and opposition leader Jawar Mohamed has been imprisoned along with other prominent Oromo politicians on charges of terrorism and other crimes.

In 2014, Tesfalem was among three journalists and six bloggers known as “Zone 9 bloggers” and arrested for inciting violence, among other charges, including terrorism. He spent more than a year in prison and was later released. Zone 9 bloggers were the recipients of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award in 2015.

The CPJ on Monday condemned Tesfalem’s recent arrest.

The advocacy group said in a statement posted on Twitter, “This is the latest incident of attacks on the press, which the government is keen to suppress rather than nurture, independent or dissenting coverage.”

The nonprofit has documented several arbitrary arrests, assaults and the expulsion of at least one journalist in recent months.

“Is it now forbidden to film anti-government protesters in the country?” asked Reporters Without Borders, another advocacy group that called for Tesfalem’s release while it was being held.

“He did nothing but his work,” the RSF said in a Twitter post that also added that Tesfalem was arrested while filming a performance.

There was no reaction from the Abi government on the latest arrest.

Separately, Prime Minister Abiy was sworn in for a second term on Monday. The incident comes as the national government is engaged in a nearly year-long armed conflict with forces in Ethiopia’s northern Tigre region.


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