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The Ethiopian government early in the morning on Friday expelled Simon Marks, a New York Times journalist, from POLITICO and other outlets, who recently covered atrocities allegedly committed by the Ethiopian military and its allies in the northern Tigray region.
Ethiopia, led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, gave no explanation for the sudden deportation of Marks, a dual British and Irish national who had worked in the country for nearly two years.
The move was immediately denounced by press freedom advocates who have spearheaded a disturbing turn in the country’s authoritarian regime, particularly since Abiy launched a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and sparked civil war. Marks had reported on the alleged atrocities in Tigray, including rape and mass shootings.
Marks, who has reported for POLITICO from countries across Africa, was invited to a meeting with government officials in the capital Addis Ababa on Thursday. The officers then took him to the airport, where he was arrested until he was flown to Brussels, where he had lived before moving to Africa.
The Ethiopian government revoked Marks’ press card in March shortly after his return to Addis Ababa from a reporting trip to Tigray, but his permit in the country was valid until October. An appeal against the withdrawal was rejected earlier this month.
“I am terribly disappointed with the decision the Ethiopian government has made after raising hope for so long,” said Marks in an interview on Friday. “This government has promised to create an environment in which a free press can thrive, and this incident proves that this is under threat.”
Abiy received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his role in ending a conflict with neighboring Eritrea. However, his government was sharply criticized for the military offensive in Tigray and the temporary blocking of access to the region for humanitarian organizations, international diplomats and journalists.
Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement expressing serious concern about “credible reports by armed forces in Tigray that have committed acts of violence against civilians, including gender-based violence and other human rights abuses and atrocities”.
John Harris, founding editor of POLITICO, said Marks’ expulsion sent a worrying signal and was part of a pattern of efforts to hamper independent media outlets.
“Simon was a colleague and employee at POLITICO so we are particularly concerned about this situation,” said Harris. “It is clear that his case is another arena in an ongoing competition between the values of freedom and transparency versus oppression and suffocation of the truth. Anyone who believes in the free press will want to join us in raising awareness of this worrying development. “
Ethiopia will hold parliamentary elections next month, which Abiy is expected to have more leverage over power.
Marks said the upcoming vote only underscores the importance of media monitoring. “With elections approaching next month and widespread instability in many regions, a free press is essential to hold those in power or armed challenge to the government accountable,” he said.
Michael Slackman, Deputy Editor-in-Chief, International, New York Times, condemned the government’s treatment from Marks, who said he wasn’t even allowed to return home to say goodbye to his two-year-old son.
“It is alarming that the Ethiopian government treated journalist Simon Marks like a criminal and expelled him from the country without letting him go home to change clothes or passport,” Slackman said.