The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the arrests of six journalists by Ethiopian police for their reporting about the ongoing conflict in the country.

Haftu Gebregzhiabher, Tsegaye Hadush, Abreha Hagos, Udi Mussa, Medihane Ekubamichael and Bekalu Alamirew were arrested by the Ethiopian police over the last two weeks. Awlo Media journalist Bekalu Alamrew was arrested on November 4 during a raid on his office in which police confiscated the company’s equipment, including the journalist’s cell phone. Bekalu was accused of interviewing Tigray region officials as well as defamation, collaborating with foreign forces and incitement and is expected to appear before court today, November 12.

Medihane Ekubamichael, editor of Addis Standard, was reportedly arrested without a warrant on November 7 from his Addis Ababa home for his “attempts to dismantle the constitution through violence”.

Haftu Gebregzhiabher, Tsegaye Hadush, and Abreha Hagos from Ethiopian Press Agency (EPA) and Udi Mussa from Oromia Media Network (OMN) were arrested between November 7 and 10,  and media reports said that family and lawyers of these journalists are unable to make contact them.

“The arrests of journalists is a flagrant attempt by the Ethiopian government to prevent the media from reporting about the conflict in the north of the country”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “Conflicts cannot be won by arresting journalists and stifling press freedom. These journalists should be released immediately, and the government should allow all journalists to work without the fear of arrests.”

Months of rising tensions between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) culminated in a military offence against the regional ruling group. In addition to the intimidation of journalists, Ethiopian authorities are applying extensive measures to ensure information on the conflict stays limited. According to Aid groups, transport to and from the region is not allowed and telephone lines were shut down.

“We are definitely feeling a chilling effect since the conflict in the Tigray region was sparked on November 4,” a journalist who requested anonymity told IPI. “Many, myself included, are harassed by government officials or targeted by doxxing campaigns for covering the conflict. Editorial rooms are now reevaluating their approach to this coverage and are forced to resort to self-censorship.”

“It’s hard to communicate with people from the other side but we try to voice their struggle, but when we do, we also see a divide within the journalistic community,” she said, referring to a discrediting campaign by state media journalists against others.

Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 in particular for his efforts to establish peace with neighbouring Eritrea. He has also presided over the release of jailed journalists I the country. Despite this promising achievement, IPI has been monitoring worrisome trends in the country’s media reform, including a volatile hate speech law and journalists’ arrests.