American government-backed Voice of America (VOA) reporter Marthe Van Der Wolf was arrested by Ethiopia’s police and taken to a police station. where she was questioned about her interviews and told to delete them.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the reporter was then released without being charged, but it highlights the growing concern over media workers in the East African country.
It also came as hundreds of Muslims in the country protested at the capital’s Anwar Mosque over what they argued was government interference in local Islamic Council elections, which are to take place on Sunday.
The New York based press freedom group called on the Ethiopian government and police “to stop their harassment of journalists covering Muslim related issues and intimidation against citizens who give interview to reporters about sensitive religious, ethnic, and political issues.
“We urge the government’s leadership to set a new tone of tolerance and halt the bullying tactics of the past,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes.
“Citizens should be allowed to voice their opinions to journalists without fearing arrest or intimidation, and reporters should be allowed to cover even those events the government dislikes.”
Former VOA correspondent Peter Heinlein was similarly detained last May, while he was covering Muslim protest. He was then accused of “illegal reporting.”
Following the latest incident, VOA released a statement condemning the harassment and obstruction and said the incident was “designed to prevent journalists from doing their job.”
Although Ethiopia state television continues to brand Muslim protesters in the country as aberrations and a “fringe movement,” Muslims in the country took to the streets in front of the mosque to demand religious freedom.
“We just want our voices to be heard and to have a say in the great future for Ethiopia,” one protester told Bikyamasr.com.
Last summer, after police attacked mosques in the country in an attempt to stifle the Muslim voices in the country and push the state-run Islamic identity, which has been largely decried by Ethiopia’s Muslim community.
Hundreds of thousands flocked to the Addis Ababa Stadium to celebrate the end of Ramadan, and large protests were reported across the country, Opride.com said.
The Eid day protests catapulted the movement into a new and uncharted territory.
“Sunday’s Eid prayer proved to be a day of reckoning,” wrote Dimsachen Yisema, the protesters de facto spokesperson, in comments published by Opride.com, hinting at the specter of the Arab Spring that toppled several undemocratic regimes.
“All [the protesters] share the grievances caused by the government’s unconstitutional interference in their religious affairs, and to demand their voices to be heard.”
The same news report said large numbers of protesters had poured onto the streets in Jimma, Dessie, Robe and Adama towns’ chanting, “let our voices be heard, free our representatives” and calling out the state-run Ethiopian television for its smear campaigns.
The Muslim community has also pushed for unity between Christians and animists in the country in recent months, urging all Ethiopians to come together for change in the country.
A group of Ethiopian Muslim student activists and their Christian friends have lashed out repeatedly at international media coverage of alleged friction between the two religious groups in the East African country.
They told Bikyamasr.com earlier this month that “the only turmoil between Christians and Muslims is what the media is making out of the events here.”
They said that recent crackdowns on Muslims in the country are the result of “ongoing government oppression and should not be seen as a sign of sectarian divides in the country.”
One of the Christians, Maria, argued that “the media want to show our Muslim sisters and brothers as antagonistic toward Christians, but the reality is that we are all battling the government and its violence against all Ethiopians.”
Tensions reached their peak on July 13, when the government raided a gathering at the Awalia Mosque in Addis Ababa, where government officials said Muslim leaders were planning further protests.