Reuters cameraman Kumerra Gemechu has been in solitary confinement for almost a week with no charge or evidence of wrongdoing, his lawyer said.
His lawyer Melkamu Ogo said Wednesday the police had informed him that their investigative lines included allegations of divulging false information, communicating with anti-government groups and disrupting the peace and security of the public. However, he said he saw no evidence.
Kumerra was arrested at his home in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa last Thursday and is being held until January 8, pending a police investigation.
Kumerra’s family said he was held in a cold cell and slept on a mattress on the floor. However, they said they were allowed to visit Kumerra as well as his lawyer and brought him extra clothes, food and medicine.
The Ethiopian police and prosecutors did not respond to questions from Reuters about the reasons for Kumerra’s arrest and the conditions under which he is being held, or requests for comments on his case.
“Kumerra is part of a Reuters team that reports from Ethiopia in a fair, independent and unbiased manner,” said editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler in a statement on Monday. “Kumerra’s work shows his professionalism and impartiality, and we have no basis for his imprisonment.”
Similar allegations were made against several other journalists earlier this year, Melkamu said. However, media watch groups say that in most cases no formal charges have been filed.
Police and government officials did not respond to requests for comment.
PROMISE OF CHANGE
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, has overseen major reforms since taking office in 2018, including the release of tens of thousands of political prisoners and the lifting of bans on numerous media outlets.
However, some rights activists have raised concerns that his government may revert to some of the authoritarian practices adopted by their predecessor. Thousands of people were arrested this year after outbreaks of deadly violence, including a conflict between the military and a rebel regional force in the northern region of Tigray.
Media monitoring groups, including the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), reported the arrest of at least seven Ethiopian journalists in November, the month fighting broke out in Tigray.
“Following the release of the journalists who were in prison when Abiy Ahmed became Prime Minister in 2018, the Ethiopian authorities are now going in the opposite direction,” said Arnaud Froger, who heads the RSF’s Africa desk.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not return any comments and comments. However, his government has previously stated that the nation is facing security threats and is committed to maintaining law and order.
Reuters has been unable to determine whether Kumerra’s arrest was related to his work.
His wife, Hawi Desalegn, said the couple’s three children were deeply upset about his arrest. On Tuesday, she said that her 4-year-old son woke up several times the night before he cried “Daddy” and that her 7-year-old daughter was angry.
Her 10-year-old sister bursts into tears every time his name is mentioned, she said.
“We try to avoid talking about her father in her presence.”