December 22, 2021

State of emergency exacerbates regress in press freedom

City: Addis AbabaPoliticsNewsCurrent Affairs

9 journalists as concerns on media freedom continue to grow.

Avatar: Kulsma Nur
By Kulsma Nur

Kulsma Nur is a law graduate from Addis Ababa University. Reporter and content producer at Addis Zeybe.

State of emergency exacerbates regress in press freedom

Following the country-wide state of emergency, government authorities have arrested nine journalists as concerns on media freedom continue to grow. 

Kibrom Worku, editor at Ahadu Radio and TV, Eyasped Tesfaye, co-founder and editor-in-Chief of YouTube channel Ubuntu TV, Meaza Mohammed, Roha TV founder and reporter, and Tamrat Negra, editor-in-chief of Terara Network are among those recently detained. 

Kibrom Worku has been in detention since October 26, despite a court order on November 18, 2021 granting him bail. Since then, his family and legal counsel have lost contact with him. Terara Network’s Tamrat appeared in court after a week of his detention, during which his whereabouts weren't disclosed to his family and legal counsel. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), The Ethiopian Mass Media Professionals Association and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, are among those who have voiced concerns over the growing numbers of arrests. 

The Ethiopian government proclaimed the state of emergency on Nov 2, 2021 following the capture of Dessie and Kombolcha by the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF). Under this state of emergency, the rights of citizens have been restricted and derogated, expanding the power of the government. 

While the constitution allows for this temporary suspension of rights, rights to do with the nomenclature of the State, the right to self-determination, and the right to equality are not limited. Additionally, the state of emergency does not suspend Article 8: prohibition against inhuman treatment.

Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, said, “Ethiopia’s state of emergency law gives security personnel extremely broad powers of arrest and suspends due process, effectively bans critical journalism, and sends an intimidating message to the press.”

Local civil society organizations like the Ethiopian Mass Media Professionals Association (EMMPA) have also echoed this concern. In its December 14 press release, the Association underlined that ongoing detention of journalists for unjustified reasons are altering the future of press freedom in the country. The Association condemned the violation of visitation rights for those under detention and urged for the respect of visitation rights and legal assistance for detained media personnel. 

The body responsible for assessing the case of the detainees and their right to visitation by family members and legal council is the State of Emergency Implementation Inspection Board. The board is responsible for inspecting, following up, and recommending corrective measures to the Prime Minister or the Council of Ministers if and when abuse of power takes place during this process. This includes cases when detainees have been subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. 

Lawyer and senior legal researcher Abdurazak Nesro told Addis Zeybe that announcing names and reasons for the imprisonment of arrested individuals within one month is one of the responsibilities of the inspection board mentioned under the constitution. 

The expert added that this helps avoid arbitrary arrests. 

“Announcing one’s prisoner situation including cause for the detention, place of detention and allowing visitors while ignoring others is discrimination”, said Abdurazak. “This  violates the right to equal treatment before the law.”

While 2018 was a remarkable time for media freedom in Ethiopia - for the first time in 15 years no journalists were detained in connection with their work - there is now a major shift as a volley of reports are coming out expressing concerns over the arbitrary detention of journalists. 

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has since then called on relevant government bodies to respect and guarantee visitation rights and the right to legal counsel even under the state of emergency. The Commission also reiterated that relevant authorities control the implementation of the state of emergency proclamation in a manner that strictly adheres to human rights principles. 

The Commission underlined that ‘visitation rights should be respected and guaranteed even under the state of emergency.’