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News“Targeted robberies” against press provoke anger, demands for investigation

“Targeted robberies” against press provoke anger, demands for investigation

Right organizations, media outlets and lobby groups urge for an end to what recently seems to be an “orchestrated robbery” against flourishing media organizations, with the latest being Ethiopian Insider.

Advocacy groups call for an end to the ongoing targeted robbery of independent media outlets in Ethiopia. They point to Ethiopia Insider, an Ethiopian media outlet, which was robbed of cameras, laptops, and other equipment in what it suspects was an orchestrated attack.

The owner of Ethiopia Insider, Haq Media & Communications, said staff left their office in the capital Addis Ababa locked around 4pm on last Sunday (July 16, 2023).

However, when they returned, they found that although the office was still locked, their drawers had been broken into.

According to a statement released by Haq Media on July 17, 2023, three digital cameras, two zoom lenses, four laptops and a smartphone were stolen from the media outlet.

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The incident was targeted and well organized, according to Tesfalem Waldyes, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Ethiopia Insider.

“It’s not a random robbery,” he said, though he didn’t know who broke in.”All the robberies followed a similar pattern,” he explained, adding, “They committed robberies on weekends, mostly on Sundays.”

Tesfalem said the robbers were looking for specific material commonly used in digital media applications. Little or no action has been taken to hold those responsible for the general theft from media to account, he added.

The Ethiopian Media Council issued a statement on July 21 noting that several media establishments had been robbed or ransacked in the past six months.

Arat Kilo Media, 251media, Yeneta Tube and Ethiopia Insider were among the outlets targeted, according to the council. Equipment and property were stolen during the robberies.

The council said the robberies appeared to be targeted attacks on digital media, not random incidents. It called for a prompt investigation and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

“The robberies seem coordinated as all the media targeted occurred on weekends, focused on media equipment, and showed no signs of forced entry,” the council stated, describing the situation as alarming.

Tamirat Hailu, Deputy Chairman of the Media Council, said the robberies came at a time when press freedom faced threats in Ethiopia.

He noted that the government had cracked down on independent media in recent years by arresting and imprisoning journalists.

The council now wants to address the looted digital media outlets, Tamirat added.

“The items stolen from each office are the same and indicate a premeditated pattern,” he explained.

The Commission to Protect Journalists (CPJ) plays a key role in documenting attacks on journalists and press freedom worldwide. In a statement issued on July 20, 2023, the CPJ called the robbery a threat to the sector and a reminder of the risks faced by journalists in Ethiopia.

The CPJ said the thefts were a serious attack on press freedom in Ethiopia and that “an intrusion into Ethiopian Insider, a media outlet known for critical and independent journalism, could severely impact its operations.”

“The burglary of Ethiopia Insider, an outlet with a reputation for critical and independent journalism, could have a devastating impact on its operations,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo.

“Police should investigate this incident, transparently determine its motive, and hold those responsible to account. A credible investigation will go far to reassure other media outlets that they are safe in Addis Ababa,” Mumo added.

Deputy Council Chairperson Tamirat argues that the robberies have significant implications for rights as news outlets and journalists are forced to self-censor out of fear or intimidation, resulting in less coverage of sensitive issues.

He believes this not only demotivates journalists but also affects the right to free expression in the media.

“It undermines press freedom, transparency, and public access to information,” he said.

Ethiopia Insider’s Tesfalem agrees.

“This is a grave incident with horrifying implications for press freedom in Ethiopia,” he told The Reporter.

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