Ethiopian police have arrested a Reuters cameraman at his home in Addis Ababa last week and have kept him in custody without charge, the international news agency said while condemning the arrest that came two weeks after the beating of its photographer by Ethiopian police.
Kumerra Gemechu, 40, was handcuffed and taken away in front of his family last Thursday by 10 armed federal police officers who did not give a reason for his arrest, Reuters said in a statement on Monday.
“Kumerra is part of a Reuters team that reports from Ethiopia in a fair, independent and unbiased way. Kumerra’s work demonstrates his professionalism and impartiality, and we are aware of no basis for his detention,” Stephen Adler, editor in chief of the news agency, said in the statement.
“Journalists must be allowed to report the news in the public interest without fear of harassment or harm, wherever they are. We will not rest until Kumerra is freed.”
At a brief court hearing on Friday, where no lawyer was present, a judge ordered Kumerra’s detention for a further 14 days to give police time to investigate, Reuters cited his family as saying.
Police also confiscated Kumerra’s phone, a computer, flash drives and papers, according to the family.
Kumerra’s arrest follows government pressure on some journalists working for international news outlets who have covered the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where government forces have been battling the former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Kumerra covered the Tigray conflict, but Reuters was unable to determine whether his arrest was connected to his work.
Reuters said government officials did not respond to questions about whether his coverage was at issue.
On December 16, Reuters photographer Tiksa Negeri was beaten by two Ethiopian federal police officers.
Ethiopia’s media authority, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, accused Reuters and other international media outlets of “false” and “unbalanced” coverage of the fighting in Tigray in a November 23 statement on its Facebook page.
“We stand by our reporting on the conflict in the Tigray region and will continue to report on Ethiopia with integrity, independence, and freedom from bias, as we do all around the world,” Reuters said in a separate statement.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Kumerra’s detention was “the latest example of how press freedom is fast eroding under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after a short-lived hope of reform”.
CPJ said there were at least seven journalists in custody in Ethiopia for their work when the organisation carried out its annual census of jailed journalists on December 1.
Five of those arrests took place after the Tigray fighting broke out on November 4, it added.
Thousands of people are believed to have been killed and about 950,000 displaced in the month-long conflict.
The government says it is now in control of the restive region, but it tightly controls access and some areas still do not have mobile phone coverage.