Nairobi — Ethiopian authorities should halt their harassment of journalists covering the country's Muslim community and their intimidation of citizens who have tried to speak to reporters about sensitive religious, ethnic, and political issues, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police in the capital, Addis Ababa, briefly detained Marthe Van Der Wolf, a reporter with the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America as she was covering a protest by members of Ethiopia's Muslim community at the Anwar Mosque, local journalists said. The protesters were demonstrating against alleged government interference in Islamic Council elections scheduled for Sunday, according to VOA and local journalists.
Wolf was taken to a police station and told to erase her recorded interviews, and then released without charge, local journalists said.
This week, security officers have also harassed Ethiopian citizens who were interviewed by VOA's Amharic-language service, according to the station. Police arrested two individuals who spoke to VOA on Thursday about a land dispute outside the capital, VOA reported. On Monday, police harassed individuals who spoke to the station about a dispute over resources between ethnic communities, the outlet said.
"We urge the government's leadership to set a new tone of tolerance and halt the bullying tactics of the past," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "Citizens should be allowed to voice their opinions to journalists without fearing arrest or intimidation, and reporters should be allowed to cover even those events the government dislikes."
For much of the year, Ethiopian authorities have cracked down on journalists and news outlets reporting on the unprecedented protests by members of the Muslim community, according to CPJ research. In May, police detained former VOA correspondent Peter Heinlein overnight on accusations of "illegal reporting" for covering a similar protest, VOA reported.
VOA released a statement today that condemned the harassment and obstruction and said the incident was "designed to prevent journalists from doing their job."
Three Muslim-oriented papers have not been published in the country since July after police raided the outlets and searched the homes of their editors. Yusuf Getachew, editor of Ye Muslimoch Guday, has been imprisoned on charges of treason and incitement to violence for reporting on the grievances of the Muslim community, and at least two journalists, Senior Editor Akemel Negash and copy editor Isaac Eshetu, have fled into hiding, according to CPJ research.
With six journalists in jail, Ethiopia is the second leading jailer of journalists in Africa, second only to its neighbor, Eritrea, according to CPJ research.