News / Africa

Ethiopia Releases VOA Correspondent, Drops Charges

VOA's Peter Heinlein investigates wreckage from the
VOA's Peter Heinlein investigates wreckage from the "Black Hawk Down" incident near Mogadishu, Somalia, Aug. 13, 2011. (VOA Photo/G. Joselow)
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A VOA correspondent and his translator are safe at home with their families Saturday after being detained overnight by Ethiopian police on a charge of "illegal reporting."

Veteran correspondent Peter Heinlein and translator Simegineh Yekoye were arrested Friday as they were leaving a mosque on the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Heinlein told VOA editors Saturday he was questioned at length about the purposes of his reporting.

"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," said Heinlein. "We had a lengthy interrogation and gave a long statement in which he grilled us quite extensively about reporting, and about why, how we had gone to this mosque and what our motives were."


Heinlein said he and Simegineh were released and all charges were dropped after an official from the U.S. Embassy's consular section appeared at the prison Saturday morning. He said computer and recording equipment that were confiscated upon his arrest were returned and that he and Simegineh are in good health.

Voice of America issued a statement from its headquarters in Washington saying it is relieved by Heinlein's release.

It said Heinlein is "a professional and highly respected journalist whose only aim is to provide accurate and balanced coverage of events in Ethiopia.  We are concerned about a pattern of harassment of journalists like Mr. Heinlein, and urge the government to allow them to perform their duties without fear of interference.”

Tom Rhodes, East Africa spokesman for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told VOA Saturday that his organization is frustrated at what seems to be a shrinking tolerance of foreign journalists by the Ethiopian government.  

"You know, at CPJ we’re incredibly relieved that they have released Peter Heinlein today and that it hasn’t become a long, trumped-up process," Rhodes said. "But we’re also very upset that he was arrested in the first place, because it appears to be that, at least in the earlier reporting we’ve done, that they simply couldn’t find a genuine reason for his arrest."

Heinlein said the arrest appeared to be connected to his reporting on a dispute between Ethiopia's Muslim minority and the government over the leadership of the nation's Muslim community.

He said he and Simegineh appeared to have inadvertently crossed police lines aimed at keeping reporters away from a meeting after Friday prayers at the mosque where the dispute was being discussed.

He said police stopped his car as he and the translator were leaving the mosque, and later took the two of them to a local police station. From there, they were transferred to the city's main police station for questioning.

He said Simegineh had been permitted to return home overnight because there was not a suitable place to keep her in the prison and ordered to return Saturday morning.

Heinlein, an east Africa correspondent based in Addis Ababa, has worked for VOA since 1988.

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by: Daniel from: US
May 30, 2012 5:44 PM
Why is VOA hiding the real reason behind the imprisonment? The guy is married to a European diplomat and he was using diplomatic car to do journalistic duties. This is pure stupidity and illegal from on his part. Just because he is an American does not mean he is immune of anything.

by: Stefan J. Bos from: Budapest
May 29, 2012 7:49 AM
I am so happy to learn that Peter Heinlein has been released. He is a great reporter. I am just wondering however what happened with the equally courageous translator Simegineh Yekoye as she was ordered to return to prison Saturday morning. Often local professionals take huge risks in their dedicated and fine work to help international media such as VOA tell the story.

Stefan J. Bos, Budapest, Hungary

by: Semir from: Addis Ababa
May 28, 2012 4:53 PM
Thank you Peter!
You go to Awolia to witness and report what Ethiopian Muslims say, hope you learned a lot about their peaceful struggle and why they cry. The EPRDF What government did on its Muslim citizens is against the country's constitution and it is a violation of human right. I am waiting your report about the issue.

Thanks again

by: Geremew from: Addis Ababa
May 28, 2012 3:18 AM
Mr.Heinlein,
Why is that VOA does not report the human right abuses in Bahrain, or even the 99%'s demonstration under its nose? Pls do that and leave us alone. We are examples for the rest of world where Muslims and Christians live in harmony, except when interfered by outside elements.

by: Abera Mano from: ethiopia
May 27, 2012 4:48 AM
I would like to express again my deep gratitude to VOA's Peter heinlein for his courageous attempt on reporting the adement suppression of the Ethiopian gov on it's very people .where the Meles security apparatus is way beyond the limit of people tolerance .please don't halt your effort on expressing the very truth at the ground the current situation of Ethiopia ,no main stream media dare reporting except VOA. BRAVO!!!

by: Abera mamo from: ethiopia
May 26, 2012 5:10 PM
How un ugly act of agration against freedom of expression.let all international autorities act upon this vehemently.And foreign journalists dig and express the reality of the cuurrent development in Ethiopia.

by: asemahagne abebe from: US
May 26, 2012 11:32 AM
a government who contradict his own conustitition is nothing but dictetors. arresting aVOA journalist and realles them overnight it,s terrebel thing to do.but what about the ethiopian journalist who facess life inpresinment just for reporting the true nature of the government.what happen to VOA is evidence of the true natures of the ethiopian government therefor i would like VOA to advocat about free press in ethiopia and the reales of all journalist who detaind in ethiopian prison

by: sime
May 26, 2012 5:59 AM
My friend , the dictator is funded by your own very government who is pretending to foster democracy around the world. We Ethiopians are tired of you liar president so called Mr. Obama. I remember him addressing Ghanaian parliament : African does not need strong men , but it needs strong institution. Contradicting his own claim , he invited one of the most despot leaders ( Zenawi of Tigrai) to the world food security forum held in DC last week.

by: seyoum777 from: addisa ababa
May 26, 2012 5:07 AM
Dear Mr. Peter Heinlein

Your colleagues back at home miserably failed to properly report the mass demonstration dubbed as "we are the 99-% ". All the main stream medias turn a blind eye when it comes to demos in US , Britain, Bahrain etc. So Mr. pls go back home and leave us alone.

by: Agonafir from: Oromia
May 25, 2012 10:03 PM
Will this rather reckless actions of Ethiopian authority help us move forward? What is the matter if we let the world hear what is going on in Ethiopia? Why government is in an utter fear? Should we suspect that the government, as is claiming, meddling in an affairs of Muslims? Who benefits from this move? Why not wake up?!
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