Nelly Bassily | June 17, 2013
Ethiopian authorities have detained a reporter who sought to interview people evicted from their homes, according to a news report and the reporter’s editor. Muluken Tesfahun was interviewing people in a region where the government is building a contentious hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile. The reporter for the privately-owned weekly newspaper, Ethio-Mehedar, is being held in prison in the town of Asosa, capital of the Benishangul-Gumuz region in northwestern Ethiopia.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, says the case highlights the Ethiopian authorities’ disregard for the rule of law and its systematic efforts to suppress news critical of government officials.
Getachew Worku is the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. He said Mr. Tesfahun has not been formally charged or presented in court. The detention appears to run counter to constitutional guarantees that citizens be brought to court within 48 hours of arrest.
Mohamed Keita is CPJ’s Africa Advocacy Coordinator. He said: “By arresting journalist Muluken Tesfahun for gathering information from the victims of forced relocation, Ethiopia is once again criminalizing independent journalism.” He continued: “Ethiopia should make good on its obligation as a member of the UN Human Rights Council to uphold citizens’ rights by releasing Muluken immediately.”
According to the Voice of America, local security forces arrested Mr. Muluken on Friday in the village of Dobi. They also confiscated his reporting equipment. Mr. Muluken had been assigned by his newspaper to report on the return of thousands of ethnic Amhara, Oromo, and Agew farmers who had been forcibly evicted from their land in mid-March.
The Ethiopian state media have not reported in detail on the evictions caused by the building of the dam. However, local journalists say that opposition parties have made accusations of ethnic cleansing. The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, acknowledged the evictions in a speech to the House of Peoples’ Representatives in April.
He called the action “illegal,” blaming it on lower-level officials and inviting the displaced to return. This month, Federal Affairs Minister Shiferaw Teklemariam announced the arrests of 35 Benishangul officials in connection with the evictions.
The government says the Grand Renaissance Dam will be Africa’s biggest power plant. The dam’s impact on the downstream water supply has renewed tensions between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan. No one has provided an official explanation for the evictions, and it’s not clear that they were directly related to construction of the dam.
The Ethiopian government has denied allegations of coercion, abuse, and violence in other resettlement programs. International news reports have alleged that the authorities displaced small-scale farmers in order to lease large tracts of land to foreign commercial farmers.
Ethiopia has jailed eight journalists. According to the CPJ, the country trails only Eritrea as Africa’s most prolific jailers of journalists.