Ethiopian authorities must immediately free all detained journalists and stop using wartime emergency laws to lock up reporters for doing their jobs, a press freedom watchdog said Thursday.
The call from the Committee to Protect Journalists came as police in the conflict-torn Horn of Africa nation arrested a freelance video journalist working for The Associated Press and two other local reporters.
Journalists working in Ethiopia face restrictions under a nationwide state of emergency declared last month by the government, which has been locked in a 13-month conflict with Tigrayan rebels.
The CPJ said at least 14 journalists had been arrested since Ethiopia issued the decree.
“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,” CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative Muthoki Mumo said in a statement.
“The Ethiopian government should release all journalists detained for their work and stop using the state of emergency as a pretext to infringe on freedom of expression.”
The CPJ named Ethiopia as a major jailer of journalists in its annual scorecard of press freedom issued last week.
The state-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said on Wednesday it was “gravely concerned” about four detained journalists in detention, whose whereabouts are unknown even to their families.
The Associated Press, meanwhile, has called for the immediate release of Amir Aman Kiyaro, who it said was arrested in the capital Addis Ababa on November 28 after returning from a reporting trip.
Kiyaro was accused of breaching state of emergency laws, promoting terrorism and spreading propaganda, actions police said could be punishable by prison terms of seven to 15 years.
The AP described the charges as “baseless.”
At the end of November, Ethiopia announced new state of emergency rules banning the sharing of non-official information about military movements and battlefield outcomes, an order that was seen as an attempt to further restrict media reporting on the war.
The government also barred residents from “using various types of media platforms to support directly or indirectly the terrorist group,” referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and warned of unspecified consequences for anyone who ignored the decree.
Much of the conflict-affected zone in northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted.
On Thursday, Reporters Without Borders said there were currently 488 media professionals imprisoned around the world – the highest number since the NGO began counting more than 25 years ago.
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