As Ethiopia Fights in Tigray Region, a Crackdown on Journalists

As Ethiopia Fights in Tigray Region, a Crackdown on Journalists

Source: New York Times

Credit…Simon Marks for The New York Times

NAIROBI, Kenya — One Ethiopian journalist was taken away by police officers as his distraught 10-year-old daughter clung to him. Another fled the country after she said armed men ransacked her home and threatened to kill her.

And a foreign reporter working for The New York Times had his press credentials revoked, days after he interviewed victims of sexual assault and terrified residents in the conflict-torn Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.

Six months into the war in Tigray, where thousands have died amid reports of widespread human rights abuses, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia has sought to quell critical coverage of the conflict with a campaign of arrests, intimidation and obstruction targeting the independent news media, according to human rights campaigners and media freedom organizations.

Credit…Ben Curtis/Associated Press

Mr. Abiy, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, is contending with an election scheduled for June 5 that is expected to cement his hold on power. But rights groups describe a climate of fear and repression that has eroded Ethiopia’s already-tenuous press freedoms and could undermine confidence in the outcome of the vote.

“It’s a sharply disappointing state of affairs given the hope and optimism of early 2018 when Mr. Abiy became prime minister,” said Muthoki Mumo, representative for sub-Saharan Africa for the Committee to Protect Journalists.

When Mr. Abiy came to power, Ethiopia was among the most repressive countries for journalists in Africa, and he quickly won global praise for a series of sweeping reforms. Journalists were freed from incarceration, hundreds of websites were unblocked and Ethiopia hosted the World Press Freedom Day celebrations for the first time.

Social media usage exploded. And for the first time in 14 years, Ethiopia did not have any journalists in prison.

But Mr. Abiy’s ambitious reforms quickly ran into stiff headwinds, including opposition from regional political parties and outbreaks of ethnic violence in several restive regions. His government began to revert to the old ways, shutting down the internet during political protests and detaining journalists under laws that had been introduced by the previous government.

When Mr. Abiy collected his Nobel Peace Prize in Norway in December 2019, he broke with tradition by not taking questions from the press. In his acceptance speech, he accused social media platforms of sowing discord in Ethiopia.

Credit…Spencer Platt/Getty Images

After Mr. Abiy began a military operation in Tigray on Nov. 4, hoping to oust a regional ruling party that had challenged his authority, press freedoms deteriorated further.

Within hours, the internet in Tigray was shut down and journalists were blocked from entering the region. Later, the authorities detained Ethiopians working in Tigray for international news outlets including the BBC, Agence-France Press, the Financial Times and The New York Times.

Since November, the Committee to Protect Journalists has documented the arrests of at least 10 journalists and media workers who were held for periods from a few days to two months related to their coverage of the conflict in Tigray.

Last week, government officials confirmed that they had revoked the accreditation of Simon Marks, an Irish reporter based in Ethiopia working for The New York Times.

In a war that has already caused thousands of deaths, displaced at least two million people and led to charges of ethnic cleansing, news media coverage has become a “very sensitive” topic for the government, said Befeqadu Hailu, an Ethiopian journalist imprisoned for 18 months by the previous regime.

In the early days of the fight, at least six Ethiopian reporters working for local media in Tigray were arrested. Later, the authorities turned against Ethiopians working with international news outlets. In December, Kumerra Gemechu, a cameraman with Reuters, was detained and held without charge for 12 days before being released.

Credit…via Reuters

In January, human rights groups accused the security forces of killing Dawit Kebede, a reporter who was shot dead in the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle, ostensibly for flouting the curfew.

In February, armed men ransacked the home in Addis Ababa of Lucy Kassa, a freelance reporter for the Los Angeles Times and other outlets. In an interview, Ms. Lucy, who has since fled to another country, said the men appeared to be government agents, knew what story she was working on and warned her to stop. They confiscated a laptop and flash drive that she said contained evidence that soldiers from the neighboring country of Eritrea were fighting in Tigray, though Ethiopia had insisted at the time that this was untrue.

The government said in a statement at the time that Ms. Lucy had not legally registered as a journalist.

In March, the Ethiopian government permitted several news organizations to travel to Mekelle, but then detained the Ethiopians working for them for several days.

Mr. Marks, who works for The Times and other publications, has reported from Ethiopia since 2019. In a letter revoking his accreditation on March 4, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority accused him of “fake news” and what it called “unbalanced” reporting about the conflict in Tigray.

A day earlier, Mr. Marks had returned to Addis Ababa from Tigray, where he interviewed civilians who described atrocities by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers, and women who said they suffered horrendous sexual assaults.

Credit…Simon Marks for The New York Times

That reporting was the basis of two stories published by The Times in the following weeks.

Last week, after appeals by The Times were declined, the head of the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority confirmed Mr. Marks’s accreditation had been canceled at least until October. Officials told Mr. Marks that The Times’ coverage of Ethiopia had “caused huge diplomatic pressure” and that senior government officials had authorized the decision to cancel his papers.

“It is deeply disappointing that a Nobel Peace Prize recipient would try to silence an independent press,” said Michael Slackman, The Times’s assistant managing editor for international. “We encourage the government to rethink this authoritarian approach and instead work to foster a robust exchange of information. It can start by reissuing Mr. Marks’s credentials and freeing any journalist being detained.”

The next test of Ethiopia’s openness is likely to be the June 5 election, the first for Mr. Abiy since being appointed prime minister in 2018.

Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Mr. Abiy, referred questions about Mr. Marks to the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority.

In a telephone interview, Yonatan Tesfaye, the deputy head of the broadcast authority, confirmed that Mr. Marks’s credentials had been revoked. He added that while they did consult other government institutions, including law enforcement, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority made the decision independently.

He said the authority was also examining the work of Ethiopian journalists for potential violations of Ethiopian law.

“We want the media to take the context we are in and we want them to operate respecting the rule of law that the country has,” he said.


  1. “Worqu Belayneh May 13, 2021
    Might is what thugs understand and practice; deal with them likewise. “Human Rights, Rule of Law, etc” do not work in the context of unruly people. Practice Mengistu Hailemariam’ style of ‘justice’ by eliminating the thugs on the sport and without mercy.” people like Worqu Belayneh, soccaled diaspora living in US , should be arrested wherever they live . they are inciting violence and killings of innocent Tegaru and Oromos ! Mahibrekidusan is also participating in this crime in disguise!

  2. “Worqu Belayneh May 13, 2021
    Might is what thugs understand and practice; deal with them likewise. “Human Rights, Rule of Law, etc” do not work in the context of unruly people. Practice Mengistu Hailemariam’ style of ‘justice’ by eliminating the thugs on the sport and without mercy.” people like Worqu Belayneh, soccaled diaspora living in US , should be arrested wherever they live . they are inciting violence and killings of innocent Tegaru and Oromos !

    Although there is no clear indication of religious war, personally believe extremeists are acting privately and in group(2-6 soldiers of ENDF , EDF wand somalian soldiers )
    and massacred our people out of their own religious conviction to take revenge against Christian Tegrau. We see them taking pleasure by killing our people mercilessly and taking selfie! That is not in a way to execute the order they receive from their commander or other chief military staff , but it looks they have a personal motive and something beyond that-religious extreimisme. many people find it uncomfortable to say there is a religious motive since we have people, fellow Tegaru, from various religious background!
    የኦርቶዶክስ ቤተክርስቲያንን ሆነ ክርስትናን ለማጥፋት የተነሱ ሀይሎች ስላሉ በሌላ አገላለፅ አቢይ ሆን ብሎ የኦርቶዶክስ ቤተክርስቲያንን ለማጥፋት ከሚሰሩ ሀይላት ጋር እየሰራ ነው እያላቹ አዲስ ምክንያት በመፍጠር ኦርቶዶክሳዊያን የሆናቹ ሁሉ ጎሳ ብሄር ጎጥ መንደር ከተማ ሳይገድባቹ ከኛ ጋር ሆናቹ እንታገል ድምፅ እናሰማ እያላቹ እኛን ለመሸንገል የምትደክሙ ካላቹ ጊዜ አታባክኑ ስል ምክሬን እለግሣለሁ፥፥እንደ ክርስቲያን የማንንም ፍጅት አልመኝም፥እየገደሉን ያሉ ወታደሮች እንኳ በፍርድ እንዲዳኙ ነው የምፈልገው፥፥ሕዝባችንን ምህረት በሌለው ከባለሥልጣናት የተላለፈ ትዕዛዝ ብቻ ሳይሆን በፅንፈኝነትና በጭፍን የብሔር ጥላቻ የጨፈጨፈና በመጨፍጨፍ ላይ ያለው አብዛኛው የአማራ ፋኖ ና የአማራ ሚሊሻ እኮ የኦርቶዶክስ ቤተክርስቲያን አማኝ ስለመሆኑ እንደሁላቹሁም እኔ በግሌ የማውቀው ሀቅ ነው፥፥ብልፅግና ነው አቢይ አሕመድ ነው ጦር ያዘመተባቹ አማራ ከተጋሩ ጋር ናቸው ለምትሉ የማስታወስ ችግር ቢኖርባቹ እንኳ የናንተን ከአቢይ ጎን ስለመቆም የሚመሰክሩ ተንቀሳቃሽ ምስሎች መጣጥፎች ምን አደከማቹ ኢንተርቴቱ ሳይቀር ያሳብቅባቹኋል፦፦የሚዋጣቹ ነገር እኛ ኮ በሥስት ቀንውሥጥ ጦርነቱን እንጨርሰዋለን ብለን ነው የጀመርነው ብትሉ ምህረት ታገኛላቹ፥፥ማጠፊያው ቢያጥራቹ ኦርቶዶክስ ተነሣ ፥ለሀገር ደህንነት ብሔርተኝነቱን ወደ ጎን ትተን አንድ እንሁን ወዘተ ጭንቀታቹህን መደበቅ የማትችሉበት ደረጃ ላይ እንደደረሳቹ ና የልብ ትርታቹ ከተለመደው ተፈጥሯዊው ሥጉምታ እንዳለፈ ተረዳን ፥ንፁሓንን ብቻ ዘር ጎሣ የማይለይ አምላክ ነፃ ያውጣልን እናንተ ደግሞ ልሂቃኑና ጦር የሰበቃቹሁብንን ለፍርድ የምትቀርቡበትን መንገድ ይፍጠርልን፥፥ትግራይ በሀይለ አምላክ ትሥዕር አሜን፦፦

    To put it in simple terms, there is a religious element or motivation in this ongoing war Against Tegaru even if it appears to have a lesser magnitude and extent.

    Regarding those prosperity party supporters and mahibrekidusan members who find themselves in an inevitable danger ahead, they keep on telling us irrespective of ethnic bacground, Orthodox church members should unite at this time so that we should protect our church from anti-Orthodox tewahedo church.

    Our people, children , women, monks priests and nuns , were massacred by ENDF and EDF soldiers who claim to be Christians . fanos and amhara militia who massacred our people in southeren Tigray, (Humera, Mai-kadra, and other towns and cities)are predominantly known to practice Christianity, more precisely they are members of EOTC.

    How come you tell us to unite with you , amhara elites, in the guise Orthodox Christianity ??

    To be honest, as a member of Orthodox church I donot want to see any one to undergo suffering let alone unimaginble war crime that was and is still going on my sacred soil of Tigray!

    However, We cannot unite with you when you burn our churches, monasteries and massacre our people mercilessly with the cooperation of extremists within Ethiopia , Eritrea and UAE.

    I also heard them saying” Amhara is not your enemy and it is Abiy Amhed who waged war on Tigray ! Ye men , we donot suffer from short memory and we know 360 , EOTC , Ethio 360 and many more individuals and organizations were and still in favor of the war on Tigray until we disappear like Dinosaur and vanish from the global map , as long as you were crying out your slogan for several months !.

    For us now, Tigrianism is most important for us , we donot divide among us on the account of the religious standing we have : Tegaru from different religious views are struggling toegther and working like a hand and glove for their own common goal- liberating Tigray and Tegaru and reconstructing Great Republic of Tigray once gain by pouring their own blood, toil, tears and sweat!

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