NAIROBI — Last week, Ethiopian authorities detained French journalist Antoine Galindo of Africa Intelligence, a news and analysis publication covering African states, on suspicion of “conspiracy to create chaos in Ethiopia.” Galindo was in Ethiopia on a government-issued journalist visa to cover a routine — literally “Ordinary” — African Union summit.
Detentions of journalists have become commonplace under Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, the suspected war criminal and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed. In 2019, Abiy, a soldier turned intelligence officer, was lauded for helping end a 20-year conflict with neighboring Eritrea. One year later, when civil war broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the peace laureate allowed Eritrean soldiers to enter Ethiopia where they slaughtered and raped Tigrayan civilians.
Since taking office in 2018, Abiy has used internet and phone blackouts and press crackdowns to prevent Ethiopians, and the world, from learning the truth about the actions of his regime. I recently wrote for The Dial about the plight of Ethiopian journalist Tamerat Negera, who was kidnapped by Abiy’s forces and detained for months before escaping into exile after his release. In 2021, Ethiopian journalists Amir Aman Kiyaro and Thomas Engida were arbitrarily detained for four months without evidence or charge; months later, 18 other journalists were arrested, two of whom faced possible death sentences for their reporting. Just last April, Ethiopia detained six more Ethiopian journalists for doing their jobs.
Though local journalists bear the brunt of Abiy’s repression of the press, foreign journalists and researchers too have been barred, deported, and detained. A few weeks after the conflict in Tigray began, Ethiopia deported a leading political analyst and researcher for the International Crisis Group, William Davison. Earlier that month, the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi invited me, along with dozens of other correspondents, to a luncheon to “improve the accuracy and the factual context of reporting on the current state of affairs in Ethiopia.” There, then-H.E. Ambassador Meles Alem Tikea told journalists that he believed the operation would be short and that it was not a civil war. The conflict lasted two years, killed or starved an estimated 1.4 million people and displaced more than four million others.
The ambassador promised journalists that we’d be welcome to report in Ethiopia, and that the government had nothing to hide. Both statements were lies: Abiy’s government refused to process our visas, forbidding journalists from entering Tigray. Presumably Abiy’s administration was fearful that we’d uncover now-widely documented atrocities — possible acts of ethnic cleansing — committed by his soldiers and those from neighboring Eritrea. Satellite images and witnesses revealed in July of last year that security forces were digging up mass graves to burn bodies en masse in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence of the slaughter. Despite that Ethiopia’s current peace is relative and tenuous, and that those responsible for or complicit in the killings, rape, and other crimes have yet to face justice, the Biden administration last year lifted economic aid sanctions, quietly informing Congress that Ethiopia was no longer engaging in a “pattern of gross violations of human rights.” Violence has spread to other regions of the country. Last week, Reuters revealed a secret death squad had operated out of offices of Abiy’s political party.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Ethiopia currently jails more journalists than any other nation in sub-Saharan Africa except for neighboring Eritrea, where 16 were detained as of December. Galindo’s arrest last week came as he interviewed a spokesperson from the Oromo Liberation Front, an opposition political party, in his Addis hotel. “The baseless and unjustified detention of Antoine Galindo for carrying out his legitimate journalistic duties is outrageous,” said Angela Quintal, who heads CPJ in Africa. “Antoine Galindo’s arrest is yet another example of the dismal press freedom record in Ethiopia where at least another eight journalists are behind bars for their work.” – February 29, 2024, for The Dial.