A Voice of America reporter has been detained in the Ethiopian capital while trying to cover a demonstration Friday.
Witnesses to the arrest told VOA that reporter Peter Heinlein and his translator Simeginesh Mekoya were detained while seeking to interview protesters during a Muslim demonstration following Friday prayers in Addis Ababa.
Another Western reporter said there was a heavy police presence at the demonstration and that he also was stopped by police and told to leave the area.
Tom Rhodes, East Africa spokesman for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said he understood that Heinlein was accused of acting “unprofessionally and illegally.” Rhodes said a government spokesman accused Heinlein, who is married to a Danish diplomat, of improperly using a diplomatic vehicle and refusing to show media accreditation.
Rhodes added that the accusations seemed at odds with Heinlein’s reputation as a highly professional journalist who has worked for VOA since 1988.
“However, I would add that Peter Heinlein is a veteran reporter, an experienced and professional broadcaster, so personally I find it rather hard to believe that someone like Heinlein would be reporting unprofessionally.”
In a formal statement from its headquarters in Washington, VOA said, “The safety and welfare of our reporters is our utmost concern and we are working to gather more information about Mr. Heinlein’s status.”
The statement said VOA is in touch with the U.S. Department of State seeking more information and “We urge Ethiopian authorities to allow Mr. Heinlein to carry out his journalistic responsibilities without interference.”
Heinlein reported last week on rising tensions between the government and Ethiopia’s Muslim minority, which has held a series of demonstrations to protest what the community sees as government interference in Islamic affairs.
The CPJ quoted Minister of Government Communications Bereket Simon saying officials wanted to speak to Heinlein about his “unobjective” reporting on the Muslim issue. Bereket did not say whether Heinlein has been formally arrested or charged.