Ethiopia is scheduled to hold general elections later this year amid heightened tensions across the country. Military conflict broke out in the Tigray region in November 2020, and is ongoing; over the past year, several other regions have witnessed significant levels of violence and fatalities as a result of protests and inter-ethnic clashes, according to media reports.
At least seven journalists were behind bars in Ethiopia as of December 1, 2020, according to CPJ research, and authorities are clamping down on critical media outlets, as documented by CPJ and media reports. The statutory regulator, the Ethiopia Media Authority, withdrew the credentials of New York Times correspondent Simon Marks in March and later expelled him from the country, alleging unbalanced coverage. The regulator has sent warnings to media outlets and agencies, including The Associated Press, for their reporting on the Tigray conflict, according to media reports.
Journalists and media workers covering the elections anywhere in Ethiopia should be aware of a number of risks, including–but not limited to–communication blackouts; getting caught up in violent protests, inter-ethnic clashes, and/or military operations; physical harassment and intimidation; online trolling and bullying; and government restrictions on movement, including curfews.
CPJ Emergencies has compiled this safety kit for journalists covering the elections. The kit contains information for editors, reporters, and photojournalists on how to prepare for the general election cycle, and how to mitigate physical and digital risk.
A PDF of the election safety kit is available to download here.
● Contacts & resources
● Physical safety: General safety advice
● Physical safety: Reporting from political rallies & crowd events
● Physical safety: Working in areas of civil unrest & remote locations
● Physical safety: Reporting from election-related protests
● Physical safety: Reporting in a hostile community
● Physical safety: COVID-19 considerations
● Digital safety: General best practice
● Digital safety: Preparing your devices for political rallies
● Digital safety: Preparing for a communications blackout
● Digital safety: Protecting against phishing
● Digital safety: Online abuse & misinformation campaigns
● Summary: Editor’s safety checklist
Contacts & resources
Physical safety: General safety advice
- Research historic and current incidents of civil unrest/violent clashes in the area. If particularly severe, as recently witnessed in the Oromo Special Zone in Amhara state, consider the potential risks versus the editorial gain.
- Consider if your ethnicity, the ethnicity of those you are working with, or the affiliation of your media house may increase the chances of being targeted by locals or the authorities in the region you’re working in.
- If driving to the location, find out if there has been any recent violence or security incidents along the way. For instance, the A2 highway passes through the Ataye area of Amhara, which is a known flashpoint for unrest. If the risk is high, consider flying instead, if feasible.
- Journalists flying should be prepared for increased scrutiny at airports, even for domestic trips, and always carry their accreditation documents and permits with them. In September 2020, a group of journalists were barred from flying to Mekelle from Addis Ababa, to cover an election that was deemed illegal by the federal government.
- Communication blackouts have been described as a ‘go to tool’ of the authorities, and present a clear operational hazard on the ground as well as serious challenges to reporting, journalists tell CPJ. Consider how you will communicate and keep abreast of developments under such circumstances.
- Ethiopia restricts the importation of satellite phones, with Ethiopian law criminalizing the use of unapproved telecommunications equipment, and they could potentially be monitored by the authorities. Journalists must obtain prior approval for their equipment during the accreditation process, though permission to bring in the satellite phones might be difficult to obtain.
- Minor and side roads in Ethiopia can be challenging and treacherous in places, especially in the wet and in mountainous areas. If you need to drive on such roads, use a robust vehicle with good ground clearance and a competent driver.
- Parts of Ethiopia are located more than 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) above sea level. If visiting such an area allow yourself sufficient time to acclimatize, keep hydrated, and avoid rushing around.
- If arranging overnight accommodation, note that a number of hotels have been targeted by hand grenades and bombs in the past, including the Grand Hotel Resort (Bahir Dar); the Sokiele Hotel (Nekemte); and the Florida International hotel (Gondar). Research any security at the hotel, who it is owned by, and the potential risk of being targeted (e.g. a Tigrayan-owned hotel in Amhara may be at an increased risk).
- Find out who is likely to be at the event, and assess the likelihood of violence based upon any upcoming announcements or local/regional issues that could trigger unrest. Be aware that violence can occur, escalate, and spread with little warning throughout Ethiopia.
- Ensure that you have obtained the correct accreditation or press identification:
–Foreign nationals should consult the relevant Ethiopian embassy/consulate regarding both visas and Ethiopian Media Authority permits, including for any equipment you plan to take with you.
–The National Election Board of Ethiopia will issue additional accreditation for both local and international journalists.
–Media workers may require additional documentation from regional and federal authorities to access certain parts of the country.
–Be aware that the accreditation process for foreign journalists can take a long time — some journalists who spoke to CPJ in mid-May said they had been waiting for weeks for their approvals to travel to Ethiopia.
Physical safety: Reporting from political rallies & crowd events
Media workers should be aware of the danger of getting caught up in and affected by unrest and/or violence when attending political rallies, crowd events, or election-related protests — especially in woredas (districts) and zones where inter-ethnic tensions exist and where armed groups and militias are known to operate.
To help minimize the risks, media workers should consider the following safety advice:
On the ground
- Ethiopia’s main rainy season, the Kirimet, typically begins in June. Take wet weather gear with you and protection for equipment if working in the open.
- If reporting at an outdoor event, consider the time of day and exposure to the sun. Note that you may be waiting for some time before an event starts. Keep hydrated, wear a sun hat, and apply sunscreen if necessary.
- Consider taking a variety of personal protective equipment (PPE) if any violence is anticipated. For more information, see CPJ’s PPE guide (English only).
- If the crowd or police might be or become hostile toward the media, avoid clothing with media company branding and remove media logos from equipment/vehicles if necessary.
- Wear sturdy footwear with hard soles, laces, and some kind of ankle support. Avoid wearing sandals or slip-on shoes.
- Working with a colleague is sensible, so consider going with another reporter or photographer if possible, noting that election events may finish late into the evening. After…