NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopian police released Reuters cameraman Kumerra Gemechu on Tuesday after detaining him without charge for 12 days.
Police had told his lawyer Melkamu Ogo that their lines of inquiry included accusations of disseminating false information, communicating with groups fighting the government, and disturbing the public’s peace and security. However, Ogo said he had seen no evidence.
“We are delighted that Kumerra has been released and reunited with his family. His release today affirms he has done nothing wrong,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement.
“Kumerra is a journalist who has consistently demonstrated his professionalism and commitment to accuracy, as part of a Reuters team that reports from Ethiopia in a fair, independent and unbiased way. Journalists like Kumerra must be allowed to report the news in the public interest without fear of harassment or harm, wherever they are.”
The Ethiopian police and prosecutor’s office did not respond to questions from Reuters on the reasons for Kumerra’s arrest and subsequent release.
Kumerra, 38, has worked for Reuters for a decade.
His family said they were preparing a special meal and looking forward to having him home for Christmas, which many Ethiopian Christians will celebrate on Thursday.
“We are so relieved that Kumerra has been released and would like to thank everyone who has supported us during this difficult time,” the family said in a statement.
“Kumerra is a dedicated and professional journalist who has done nothing wrong. He simply wants to report on Ethiopia in an independent way. His family missed him every day he was detained, and we are delighted that Kumerra will be home for Christmas.”
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, has overseen sweeping reforms since taking office in 2018, including the unbanning of more than 250 media outlets and the release of dozens of journalists.
However, rights groups say press freedom has eroded as the government faced outbreaks of deadly violence including fighting between the military and rebellious leaders in the northern region of Tigray.
Media watchdog groups reported the arrests of at least 12 other journalists in Ethiopia last year, seven of them in November when the Tigray conflict broke out.
Only one journalist was charged, for social media posts about COVID-19 that were denounced by the health ministry as false, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.
Eight have since been released and the rest remain in custody, the two groups said.
Police and government officials did not return calls and messages seeking comment. The government has previouslysaid the nation is facing security threats and is committedto maintaining law and order.
(Reporting by the Nairobi news room; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Nick Tattersall)