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Ethiopian police arrest Reuters cameraman

A Reuters cameraman was arrested in Addis Ababa on Thursday and will be kept in custody for at least two weeks, his family said. He has not been charged.

No reason was provided to the family for Thursday’s arrest of Kumerra Gemechu (photo), 38, and police did not respond to Reuters requests for comment. He has worked for Reuters as a freelance cameraman for a decade.


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, the family said.


In a statement on Monday, Reuters strongly condemned Kumerra’s detention. The arrest followed the beating of a Reuters photographer, Tiksa Negeri, by two Ethiopian federal police officers on 16 December.


“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,” editor-in-chief Stephen Adler 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,” Adler said.


Around 10 armed federal police officers arrived at Kumerra’s home in the Ethiopian capital on Thursday evening and took him away in handcuffs in front of his wife and three children, his wife Hawi Desalegn said. She added that his eldest daughter, who is 10, clung to him screaming as he was led away.


Police also confiscated Kumerra’s phone, a computer, flash drives and papers, according to the family.


Kumerra’s arrest follows government pressure on journalists for some international news outlets which have been covering the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern 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. Government officials did not respond to questions from Reuters about whether his coverage was at issue.

Ethiopia’s media authority, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, accused Reuters and other international media outlets in a 23 November statement on its Facebook page of “false” and “unbalanced” coverage of the fighting in Tigray.


“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 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.” ■