CPJ urges rebels in Ethiopia's Tigray to release detained journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged Tigrayan rebels to immediately release five journalists working for a local broadcaster in war-torn northern Ethiopia.

The five employees of Tigrai TV – a channel linked to Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) – were arrested in May and June this year, the CPJ said on Wednesday.

It cited a former senior manager at the broadcaster, as well as multiple media reports and a source familiar with the matter.

The journalists are accused "of 'collaboration with the enemy' for their alleged work with the Ethiopian federal government and its ruling Prosperity Party, according to those sources," the CPJ said in a statement.

"Convictions for collaboration with any group designated as an 'enemy' can carry up to life imprisonment or the death penalty," the media watchdog said.

"Journalists operating in Tigray should be allowed to live and work freely, without fear that they will be targeted in politically motivated cases," said CPJ's representative for sub-Saharan Africa, Muthoki Mumo.

Held 'for their work'

Two of the CPJ's sources said they believed the five were being held "for their work for Tigrai TV during the time when it was controlled by federal authorities".

The CPJ also urged Ethiopian authorities to end a communications blackout in Tigray, which has been facing dire shortages of food and disruptions to electricity, banking and other essential services.

TPLF, which has been locked in a 20-month conflict with Ethiopia's government, regained control of Tigray in June 2021, overthrowing an interim administration established by federal authorities.

The conflict erupted in November 2020 when the government sent federal troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, the region's former ruling party, saying it was in response to rebel attacks on army camps.

The TPLF mounted a shock comeback in June last year, retaking Tigray and then expanding into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara.

Fighting intensified in the second half of 2021 before reaching a stalemate./agencies