Financial Times, AFP translators arrested in Ethiopia's Tigray region

02 March 2021 - 11:18
By Reuters
Alula Akalu, who was working with the Financial Times, was arrested at a restaurant.
Image: 123RF/thawornnurak Alula Akalu, who was working with the Financial Times, was arrested at a restaurant.

Two translators working with journalists from the Financial Times and Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency have been detained in Ethiopia's northern region of Tigray, the media organizations said on Monday.

Fitsum Berhane was arrested at his home in Mekelle on Friday night after working for a team of AFP journalists for three days, the agency said in a statement.

Alula Akalu, who was working with the Financial Times, was arrested at a restaurant in the same city on Saturday, the newspaper reported.

Both news organizations said they had government permission to report in Tigray, which until this month had been off limits to most international media since fighting erupted in November between the military and the region's former governing party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF)

"We have not been informed of any specific charges against Fitsum Berhane. His collaboration with a media outlet should not be a motive for his arrest, and we call for his immediate release," Phil Chetwynd, AFP's global news director, said in the statement.

The Financial Times said it was working to secure the release of the two translators.

"Our concerns have been raised with the relevant authorities as we work to understand the reasons for the arrests," a spokesperson for the newspaper told Reuters.

Authorities in Tigray have indicated that the two men are under investigation but have not provided further details, AFP said.

"We are working on it and they will be released soon," Abebe Gebrehiwot Yihdego, deputy head of Tigray's interim administration, told Reuters without elaborating.

The head of the government's task force on Tigray did not immediately respond to a request for comment late on Monday.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has overseen sweeping reforms since taking office in 2018, including the unbanning of more than 250 media outlets and the release of dozens of journalists.

However, rights groups say press freedom has eroded as the government faced outbreaks of deadly violence including the conflict in Tigray.

Media watchdog groups reported the arrests of at least 13 journalists in Ethiopia last year. Reuters cameraman Kumerra Gemechu was detained in December and was held without charge for 12 days before being released. No reason was given for his arrest.

Abiy's government declared victory over the TPLF after its forces withdrew from major cities and towns at the end of November. However, low-level fighting has continued in some parts of Tigray.