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BBC reporter detained by Ethiopian army

A British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reporter was detained by Ethiopia’s military in the restive Tigray region, the British broadcaster said Monday.

The BBC cited witnesses who saw Girmay Gebru detained by soldiers in military uniform in the regional capital Mekelle. The public broadcaster said it had expressed concern to Ethiopian authorities.

The Financial Times reported that a translator who had been working for the paper and another who was working for Agence France-Presse (AFP) were also arrested by uniformed men in Mekelle at the weekend.

“We are taking all possible steps to ensure the release of translators Alula Akalu and Fitsum Berhane, who were arrested while working for the FT and AFP respectively on a government-authorized press trip in Mekelle, Ethiopia,” The Financial Times (FT) said in a statement.

“Our concerns have been raised with the relevant authorities as we work to understand the reasons for the arrests,” the statement added. The interim authorities have indicated the two translators are being investigated, AFP said.

Berhane was arrested at his home after working for AFP for three days as part of an accredited team.

“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,” said Phil Chetwynd, AFP’s Global News Director.

The reported arrests came only days after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said access to the region had been granted to media, including the three outlets who say their staff were detained.

Ethiopia launched a military offensive in Tigray in November to diminish the power of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which rules the region and has been critical of the government.

The government declared the conflict ended in early December, though there are reports of pockets of ongoing fighting.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Monday that at least four media workers covering the Tigray conflict had been arrested.

The CPJ pointed to comments by a ruling party official on Friday that the government would take action against people “trying to supply wrong information” to international journalists in Tigray, as reported by the Ethiopian Press Agency.

“The scarcity of independent reporting coming out of Tigray during this conflict was already deeply alarming. Now, the Ethiopian military’s arrests of journalists and media workers will undoubtedly lead to fear and self-censorship,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo.

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