Public outcry, campaigns force Tigray police to release former BBC journalist

Tigray police arrested former BBC journalist Desta Gebremedhin on November 15 for reporting on a closed joint meeting of the top leaders of the TPLF, Interim Government, and Tigray security forces; and they released him the next day following a public outcry and widespread social media campaigns.

Desta was apprehended in the streets of Mekelle on November 15 without a court warrant and forcibly taken to the notorious “Bado Shudshte,” a historical prison compound known for housing political prisoners. After being detained, he was pressured to disclose his sources, and his belongings, including his laptop, passport, and other documents, were confiscated from his home without his consent or a court search warrant.

Speaking to VOA Tigrigna, Desta stated, “They tried very hard to force me to disclose my sources about my report on the TPLF meeting. However, I told them that I won’t disclose my sources.” He further asserted that the actions of the security forces were aimed at suppressing and silencing the free media from getting access to information.

Desta, formerly a BBC Tigrigna desk journalist, joined the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) in March 2021, four months after the Ethiopian government declared a genocidal war on Tigray on 04 November 2020. A day before his time of detention, Desta reported on his YouTube channel, “The Red Sea Observer,” that the joint meeting of the TPLF, members of the Interim Government Cabinet and the military leaders that started on November 12 discussed a secret 41-page document. According to Desta, the document details the possibility of an Ethiopia-Eritrea war and the current status quo in Tigray.

As reported by journalist Desta, the document suggests uncertainty about the date but indicates a looming war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The 41-page document extensively discusses the potential war’s regional and geopolitical aspects.

Desta’s release comes amid concerns about press freedom and the treatment of journalists in the region. In September, three other journalists, Teshager Tsigab from Yabele Media, and Mehari Selemun and Mehari Kahsay from Ayam Media were detained and beaten for their coverage of a peaceful demonstration organized by opposition parties in the region. This widening crackdown on media personnel raises serious concerns about press freedom and the ability of journalists to operate without fear of reprisal in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.