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AP calls for release of Ethiopian journalist in detention

NEW YORK (AP) — Amir Aman Kiyaro, a freelance journalist accredited to The Associated Press, marked 100 days in detention without charge in Ethiopia this week, prompting the news organization and press freedom advocates to reiterate their calls to free him immediately.

“Kiyaro has not been charged with any crime and is being held unjustly,” AP Executive Editor Julie Pace said in a statement Thursday.

The video journalist was detained Nov. 28 in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, under the country’s war-related state of emergency powers. The state of emergency was lifted last month, with the government citing changing conditions in the deadly conflict between Ethiopian forces and those of the northern Tigray region.

“As we have said, Kiyaro is an independent journalist who has done important work in Ethiopia on all sides of the conflict. It is clear he is being targeted for his journalism,” Pace said.

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Kiyaro’s last court appearance was Monday, when a judge denied him bail. The judge granted more time for the police to investigate his case and set March 18 as the next court date.

Officials with the Ethiopian Media Authority, the prime minister’s office, the foreign ministry and other government offices have not responded to repeated requests from the AP for information about Kiyaro.

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State media, citing federal police, have said he is accused of “serving the purposes” of what they called a terrorist group by interviewing its officials. Local journalist Thomas Engida was arrested at the same time and is facing similar charges.

“They arrested my son for doing his job, he hasn’t committed any crimes,” Amir’s mother, Foziya Tewoldebirhan, said.

Federal police inspector Tesfaye Olani has told state media that the journalists violated the state of emergency law and Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law, and the violations could lead to sentences of seven to 15 years behind bars.

That alarms Kiyaro’s wife, Sisay Tadele, who married him last year and is eight months pregnant.

“Because of Amir’s arrest, both the family and Amir himself are going through tremendous physical, emotional and psychological pain,” she said. “And as a pregnant woman, I myself am put through a horrible situation. I say and also believe my husband shouldn’t have been in jail in the first place, let alone spend more than 100 days away from his family, and ask the Ethiopian prime minister and government for the immediate release of my husband.”

After three months of arbitrary detention, “it cannot be any clearer that authorities have no case against Amir Aman Kiyaro and Thomas Engida,” Muthoki Mumo, sub-Saharan Africa representative with the Committee to Protect Journalists, said. Terara Network editor Temerat Negara also remains behind bars in Ethiopia’s Oromia region and faces allegations that include incitement and defamation of officials, Mumo said.

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“The ongoing detention of these journalists, and the police’s transparent abuse of the judicial system to keep them behind bars, can only be seen as retaliation for their journalism work and a message to Ethiopia’s broader media community that authorities remain intolerant of independent journalism,” she said.

Kiyaro’s supporters have launched a social media campaign calling for his release: #FreeAmirAmanKiyaro.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018 with sweeping political reforms that in part led to him being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize the following year. Several journalists were released from incarceration and for a brief period, no journalist in Ethiopia was in prison. But media advocacy groups that once praised those reforms have since criticized the dramatic backsliding that followed, notably since Ethiopia’s war began in November 2020.

This week, more than a dozen Ethiopian journalists in an open letter condemned the persecution of journalists including Kiyaro, saying that “the hostile environment so many of our colleagues in Ethiopia currently find themselves in has them intimidated, languishing behind bars, living in fear of the very real risk of arrest, and contemplating either quitting their jobs or fleeing the country.”

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