ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian authorities briefly detained a journalist for Voice of America (VOA) and his translator as he covered a dispute between Muslims and the government in the capital Addis Ababa, the U.S. broadcaster said on Saturday.
Peter Heinlein and translator Simegineh Yekoye were arrested after leaving a meeting about the dispute at a mosque on Friday afternoon and released without charge the following morning, VOA said.
“We were interrogated by a police officer who told us that we had engaged in illegal reporting. They say that this is a problem area that we had gone into, and that reporters had no business going in there,” Heinlein was quoted as saying in an online VOA report.
Ethiopian government spokesman Shimeles Kemal told Reuters Heinlein was arrested after failing to identify himself to police and officials.
Groups of Muslims have been holding protests in Ethiopia accusing the government of interfering in religious affairs by promoting an Islamic movement that opposes ultra-conservative ideology and rejects violence.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said he is concerned about signs of growing “extremism” in the country.
Media watchdogs have accused Addis Ababa of using national security as an excuse to crack down on its press – a charge the government dismisses.
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Critics point to a 2009 law under which anyone convicted of publishing information that could induce readers to commit acts of terrorism could be jailed for up to 20 years.
More than 10 journalists have been charged under the law, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Earlier this year, two Swedish journalists were sentenced to 11 years in jail for entering the country illegally and aiding a rebel group. The two have sought clemency rather than appeal, which they hope will lead to a quicker release.
(Reporting by Kumerra Gemechu; Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)