Watchdog urges release of media workers held in Ethiopia

International

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — The Committee to Protect Journalists is urging Ethiopian authorities to free journalists and media workers detained in the Tigray region, where government troops and their allies are battling forces loyal to the local administration.

At least four Ethiopian media workers assisting members of the international press have been detained in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, in recent days.

They include two translators working for the French news agency AFP and the Financial Times, as well as a local fixer, according to the journalists’ group. The three were arrested on Saturday. The BBC reported on Monday that a journalist working with its Tigrinya service had also been arrested.

The BBC, AFP and the Financial Times had permission to operate in Tigray.

“The scarcity of independent reporting coming out of Tigray during this conflict was already deeply alarming. Now, the Ethiopian military’s arrests of journalists and media workers will undoubtedly lead to fear and self-censorship,” Muthoki Mumo, sub-Saharan Africa representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in the statement. “Ethiopian authorities should release these journalists and media workers immediately and provide guarantees that the press can cover the conflict in Tigray without intimidation.”

The office of Ethiopia’s prime minister announced on Feb. 24 it was authorizing some members of the international press to report from Tigray, a northern province that has been in armed conflict with the federal government since November.

But two days later a ruling party official, Habtay Gebreegziabher, told a state-run media agency that authorities would take measures against people he accused of “trying to supply wrong information” to international journalists in Tigray, according to the statement by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Alarm is growing over the fate of Tigray’s 6 million people as fierce fighting reportedly continues between Ethiopian and allied forces and those supporting the now-fugitive Tigray leaders who once dominated Ethiopia’s government.

The United Nations in its latest humanitarian report on the situation in Tigray says the “humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate” as fighting intensifies across the northern region.

No one knows how many thousands of civilians have been killed. Humanitarian officials have warned that a growing number of people might be starving to death in Tigray.

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