Ethiopia believes two journalists it detained last week planned to sabotage the country’s power and phone lines and recruit others to work with arch-foe Eritrea to destabilise it, said a police chief.
Woubishet Taye, a deputy-editor for the weekly Awramba Times, and Reyot Alemu from the Feteh newspaper were arrested on July 19 and 21, prompting media watchdogs CPJ and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to call for their immediate release.
“The group was caught while plotting to sabotage electricity and telephone lines in an attempt to wreak havoc in the country,” Demelash Woldemikael, assistant commissioner of the country’s federal police, told journalists, Reuters reports
“Further investigation has also revealed that they acted to recruit others to carry out terrorist activities with support from the Eritrean government and other anti-peace groups,” he added without giving more details.
Demelash said the group will be charged upon completion of investigations.
Paris-based RSF condemned their arrest.
“The mystery surrounding their detention is unacceptable,” it said in a statement.
“These shady methods suggest a desire to stifle outspoken media and impose a news blackout on government abuses by scaring journalists and pressuring them to censor themselves on a regular basis.”
Government spokesman Shimelis Kemal said their incarceration had no link with political affiliation or their jobs.
“This has nothing to do with their reporting or political activity. They were arrested because they plotted to carry out terrorist activities and recruited others to join them,” he said.
The names of the other seven individuals were not disclosed.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have often traded tough rhetoric since a 1998-2000 border war. Addis Ababa claims its northern neighbour is trying to destabilise the region by backing rebels, while also supporting Islamist militants in Somalia.