French journalist detained in Ethiopia on suspicion of conspiring 'to create chaos'

AFP , Monday 26 Feb 2024

A French journalist has been arrested and detained in Ethiopia since February 22 on suspicion of conspiring "to create chaos" in the country, his employer said Monday.

Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed
Prime Minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed waves as he arrives before the opening ceremony of the 37th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa on February 17, 2024. AFP

 

Antoine Galindo traveled to Ethiopia to cover the African Union (AU) summit earlier this month for the specialist publication Africa Intelligence.

Following his arrest on Thursday, he was brought before a judge on Saturday, who ordered his detention be extended until March 1, Africa Intelligence said, condemning the "unjustified arrest".

"These spurious accusations are not based on any tangible evidence that might justify this extended deprivation of liberty," it said, pointing out that Galindo had informed the Ethiopian authorities of his assignment and had a visa authorizing him to work there as a journalist.

The 36-year-old, who heads the publication's East Africa section, lived in Ethiopia between 2013 and 2017 and was "known to the Ethiopia Media Authority", which oversees media accreditations.

According to a source close to the case who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, Galindo was arrested on Thursday afternoon at a hotel in Addis Ababa while meeting an official from the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) party.

He has since been held at a police station in Ethiopia's capital, the publication said, calling for his immediate release.

Ethiopian authorities did not respond to AFP requests for comment.

An OLF spokesman told AFP that a party official was arrested in Addis Ababa on Thursday but could not confirm if Galindo had met the official.

A source close to the government told AFP that Galindo was accused "of operating outside the accreditation he was given to cover the AU Summit... (and) of engaging with members of militant forces that the country has outlawed".

The OLF renounced the armed struggle in 2018, prompting the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) to split from the party.

Federal forces have been fighting OLA rebels in Ethiopia's most populous region Oromia ever since, while peace talks have failed to yield meaningful progress.

 

'Atrocious environment for the press'

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday that it was "outraged that a journalist on a legitimate reporting trip is targeted in this way."

Galindo's "unjust arrest highlights the atrocious environment for the press in general in Ethiopia," the CPJ's Africa branch said on its website.

According to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), as of January 1 this year, 15 journalists were in prison in Ethiopia.

"Hostility towards independent journalism seeking to cover all national issues is growing and foreign media and journalists are also in the sights of the authorities," said Sadibou Marong, director of RSF's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

"The arbitrary detention of Antoine Galindo is a terrible illustration of this. RSF calls on the Ethiopian authorities to immediately release the journalist."

In 2023, Ethiopia ranked 130th in the world in terms of press freedom, down 16 places compared to 2022, according to the NGO.

The government imposed a state of emergency in Ethiopia's second most populous region Amhara in August after fighting erupted between federal authorities and a regional "self-defence" militia named Fano.

The decree, which was extended earlier this month, allows the authorities to declare curfews and for suspects to be searched and held without a warrant.

 

Journalists expelled

The fighting in Amhara reignited concerns about Ethiopia's stability, a few months after a peace deal ended a brutal two-year conflict in the northernmost region of Tigray between Tigrayan rebel authorities and forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Abiy was hailed as a reformer when he came to power in 2018 after decades of authoritarian rule and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his rapprochement with neighboring Eritrea.

But his reputation has taken a hit in recent years, with UN investigators accusing his government of crimes against humanity in Tigray -- claims rejected by the authorities.

Ethiopia has expelled several foreign journalists since the end of 2020.

But before Galindo's detention, authorities had not arrested a foreign journalist in more than three years.

In July 2020, a Kenyan journalist was detained for more than a month in Addis Ababa, despite an Ethiopian court ordering his release on bail.

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