US voices alarm over Ethiopia arrests of journalists

The United States on Tuesday voiced alarm over Ethiopia’s targeting of journalists in a sweep of arrests in the northern Amhara region.

State Department spokesman Ned Price saluted a continued cease-fire and progress in sending humanitarian aid into the war-battered north but called as well for “protection of press freedom, online and offline.”

“We are deeply concerned about the narrowing space for freedom of expression and independent media in Ethiopia, including a troubling increase in reports of harassment, detention, arrests of journalists, media professionals and activists,” Price told reporters.

“We strongly urge the government of Ethiopia and regional authorities to uphold the rule of law and provide all applicable procedural safeguards for any individual arrested,” Price told reporters.

Media companies said at least nine of their workers were arrested, with two outlets covering Ethiopian affairs on YouTube channels reporting that their studios were raided in recent days.

Authorities in Amhara, the second-most populous region in Ethiopia, said more than 4,000 people suspected of crimes had been arrested in an ongoing enforcement operation.

Ethiopia is a historic ally of the United States but President Joe Biden has increasingly applied pressure, including suspending valuable trading privileges, in outrage over the government’s rights record in the war that broke out in late 2020 with Tigrayan rebels.

Biden’s tough approach has angered some Ethiopian-American groups, which accuse him of bias.

But one group, the American Ethiopian Public Affairs Committee, on Tuesday also condemned the arrests in Amhara as “not consistent with democratic values.”

“These actions could tarnish the progress made by the Ethiopian government in steering the country towards peace, democracy and the rule of law,” it said in a statement.