MEETING. In Bangladesh, how “enforced disappearances” are becoming commonplace 

A Bangladeshi lawyer specializing in the rights of minorities and LGBTQI+ people, Shahanur Islam is one of the 2023 winners of the Marianne Initiative. Dedicated for many years to the queer community through his actions and criminal cases, the lawyer has been rewarded by the Initiative for his unwavering commitment. The Eye of the House of journalists had the opportunity to interview him about his commitment and his NGO.

Married with a young son, Shahanur has often feared for his family. His wife has herself specialized in defending the rights of women and children, who are also oppressed in Bangladesh. Yet Shahanur Islam has never given in to the threats, intimidation and aggression he suffers at the hands of his detractors. A lawyer by passion and deeply motivated by respect for human rights, nothing seems able to stop him.

And with good reason: Bangladesh is a South Asian country dominated by the Islamic religion. There, the LGBTQI+ community faces many and varied forms of violence, discrimination and marginalization within its family, society and state due to segregative laws, religious sentiments and social norms. Having had a transgender cousin assaulted, Shahanur knows what he’s talking about. 

Bangladesh has also experienced periods of political instability, with frequent changes of government and cases of political violence. A toxic, even deadly environment for rights defenders, where their work is seen as a challenge to the government or to powerful actors. 

Weak democratic institutions and a lack of respect for the rule of law prevent the implementation and enforcement of human rights protections,” explains the 2023 Marianne Initiative winner. “There is a culture of impunity for human rights violations. This discourages people from seeking and obtaining justice, which makes our struggle difficult,” he laments.

Journalists, activists and human rights defenders are the constant victims of harassment, threats and even violence for denouncing violations or criticizing the government. Extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are widespread in Bangladesh. This contributes to a climate of fear and mistrust of law enforcement agencies, and hampers efforts to protect human rights.”

But other parameters must also be taken into account: poverty and illiteracy (literacy rate 75%), “which exacerbate human rights problems in Bangladesh, as marginalized people lack access to basic rights and services. In addition, human rights organizations and institutions have limited resources, preventing them from effectively investigating and documenting violations and providing support to victims.”

A lawyer dedicated to the LGBTQI+ community

This situation has deeply shocked and moved me, especially as I have witnessed similar persecution and discrimination in my neighborhood and within my extended family.” Feeling a strong sense of empathy and concern for their well-being, “I knew I had to act to change things.”

A few years ago, he began to learn about LGBTQI+ issues around the world and to make contact with committed activists and institutions. “These experiences have strengthened my determination to defend LGBTQI+ rights in my own country,” in both his personal and professional life.

He firmly believes in the fundamental principles of human rights, equality and dignity for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, age, gender identity or expression.

His work aims to empower LGBTQI+ people, helping them to assert their rights and claim their rightful place in society. He knows his role as an advocate is “essential” to “promoting positive change, raising awareness and lobbying for better legal protection for the community. “As a human rights defender, lawyer and citizen journalist in Bangladesh, I have for some years been defending the rights of minorities, as well as victims of torture, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and organized violence.” An “unwavering commitment” for the queer community, and will never stop contributing to a future “where all individuals can live in dignity and freedom.”

Multiple violent assaults in Bangladesh

A fight that seems never-ending. “Last year, I received threats from Islamic extremists, which also targeted my wife and child. That’s why we have taken various security measures to protect them while they live in Bangladesh.” Threats he still receives today.

On the ground, his family avoids crowded places, only goes out in groups and not after dark; they frequently change their itinerary when traveling, as well as their place of residence. Precautions that have a heavy impact on their daily lives. “The safety of my family is an absolute priority, and I would be grateful for any help we could receive to overcome these difficult circumstances,” says the lawyer.

I have faced terrifying experiences, including repeated threats, death threats, intimidation, physical assaults, and unlawful prosecution,” he confides without lowering his head. Shahanur lodged a complaint with each assault, to no avail.

First on January 9, 2011, in the Thakurgaon district in the north of the country. At the time, he was in the presence of two other rights defenders, on a fact-finding mission to investigate a human rights violation. “During our visit, we were attacked by a group of around ten people. One of the assailants introduced himself as a member of the local Parishad Union (editor’s note: rural council), while another claimed to be its president.”

They aggressively questioned us about the purpose of our presence in the area, then one of them physically assaulted me as I tried to call the local police. They then began robbing us at gunpoint, taking video cameras, a laptop, important documents and cash among other things. I sustained further injuries during this assault when I desperately tried to call for help.”

The drama didn’t stop there: the men forced the group “to pose for photos while holding sums of money in US dollars.” Threatened with death and with the compromising photos being published in newspapers, the rights defenders failed to report the assault to the police.

On August 26, 2020, while working at the Naogaon District Court in the north of the country, Shahanur was attacked “by a group of Islamic terrorists. As soon as I left the courtroom and reached the veranda, I was suddenly attacked with the clear intention of abducting and killing me.”

Lawyers and law clerks save him in extremis from the terrorists. He emerged traumatized, with serious wounds under his left eye, on his forehead and the rest of his body, requiring hospitalization. A situation that reinforces Shahanur’s commitment to human rights. “I will continue to defend justice, equality and the protection of human rights for all, regardless of the risks we face“, he says repeatedly.

When he reports incidents to the police, they refuse to act or investigate. “For the assault that occurred in 2020, I was able to file a complaint and two of the assailants were apprehended. They were subsequently released on bail, and the investigation failed to arrest the other criminals involved. The police even submitted an erroneous investigation report against three of the perpetrators, wrongly discharging them.”

In October 2022, my transgender cousin and I were forcibly detained by a group of individuals in Kolabazar, Naogaon district. They threatened me with death if I didn’t withdraw the complaint filed against Jahurul Islam and my attackers in 2020. Despite these challenges and threats, I did not get justice and I continue to fight for accountability and for the protection of myself and others.”

Continued threats and harassment, even though he’s no longer in the country. “On July 11, 2023, a sub-inspector from the Special Branch of Police (SB) in Badalgachhi, Naogaon, visited my home in Bangladesh. He sought detailed information about me and my family, and asked me for personal information.” He also questioned his cousin about his work, “related to the establishment of LGBTQI+ rights and my advocacy for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Bangladesh.”

Furthermore, on June 21, 2023, “a user named ‘Mon Day’ on Facebook launched a vicious campaign against me, on an Islamic extremist Facebook group called ‘Caravan’. This campaign was aimed at deporting me from Bangladesh. They called me an enemy of Islam and falsely accused me of implementing a Western agenda to legitimize homosexuality. They also called for a ban on JusticeMakers Bangladesh, an organization I founded.”

JusticeMakers, the voice of forgotten Bangladeshis

Together with a group of young lawyers and social workers, Shahanur Islam founded JusticeMakers Bangladesh in 2010, after receiving a grant from International Bridges to Justice (IBJ) in Switzerland. Their NGO is dedicated to justice, rehabilitation and community development, with a focus on “the protection and promotion of human rights”, explains the award winner. They go so far as to represent victims in court and accompany them in their complaints.

Shahanur during a conference.

We are committed to respecting the principles set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the fundamental provisions of the Constitution of Bangladesh. We also provide humanitarian assistance to Bangladeshi victims of violations and discrimination.”

JusticeMakers defends “victims of extrajudicial killings, torture, organized violence and disappearances, as well as people facing violence and discrimination, including women and children.”

Despite the challenges and dangers I face, the moments of success and knowing I’m making a difference in someone’s life make it all worthwhile. Seeing the smiles on the faces of those whose rights have been defended, and knowing that they can now live in dignity and freedom, is truly rewarding.”

The organization, now based in France, also aims to “contribute to the defense, promotion, education, protection and realization of human rights, guaranteeing equality for all individuals, regardless of race, gender, sexual or religious orientation, caste or social class. We also provide access to existing support services for asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants of Bangladeshi origin living in France,” explains Shahanur.

Our legal experts will provide them with knowledge of existing legislation, constitutional rights and international human rights instruments.” At the same time, they communicate Bangladeshi criminal cases internationally, in order to “raise public awareness and lobby for the resolution of cases.”

They even mobilize the highest international institutions and jurisdictions, not hesitating to organize meetings, seminars and training courses. Shahanur and JusticeMakers don’t intend to stop there: they plan to “soon publish a monthly newsletter on the state of violations in Bangladesh”, as well as “research papers and books.”

We will maintain close relations and cooperation with other human rights organizations, embassies, local associations of lawyers, doctors, journalists’ associations and other professionals.” Finally, “a hotline” will be set up in Bangladesh for anyone concerned.

Marianne Initiative, an “invaluable opportunity” for JusticeMakers

These milestones would not have been possible without his participation in the Marianne Initiative, a veritable incubator for rights defenders. Shahanur feels “extremely lucky and honored” to be a laureate of the promotion of 2023. “This recognition has had a significant impact on my work as a rights defender,” he proclaims. His NGO has gained greater visibility and reached “a wider audience.” He speaks of an “invaluable opportunity” within the program, which has enabled him to have a “greater positive impact.”

Being recognized as a laureate validates my dedication and impact in promoting human rights,” the lawyer tells us. “It has strengthened my credibility, attracting support, partnership and collaboration from individuals and organizations who share this common commitment.”

At the same time, he was able to develop his advocacy skills and deepen his knowledge of international law. In short, “the international attention and support generated by the Marianne Initiative has contributed to my security and well-being in carrying out my work.”

Courageous, Shahanur is undeterred by the violence or the dizzying mass of work: he knows just how marginalized the LGBTQI+ community is in his country, and that all too often it’s a matter of life and death.

Credits photo : Jon Southcoasting

Maud Baheng Daizey

Bangladesh: Where Freedom of Speech is Gradually Shrinking

Freedom of speech is the principle supported by individuals or communities to freely express their opinions without fear, without surveillance or under the obligation to accept the directives and approval of authorities. At present, various countries of the world are not following this principle. That is, they are not protecting freedom of speech. The South Asian country of Bangladesh is one of the places, environments or countries where freedom of speech is most threatened.

Bangladesh is a promising country in South Asia. Although small in size, this country with a large population is full of natural beauty. The country gained independence from West Pakistan on ’16 December 1971‘ through a bloody war. In a democratic process, the Constitution enshrines the rule that the country’s government is elected by direct popular vote.

Since 2009, the government of Bangladesh has been run by a large political party called Awami League. Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the country’s architect Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the party’s president and the country’s prime minister. Sheikh Hasina is facing a lot of criticism due to her strict policy of suppressing the voices of opposition parties, dissenters and the media. Her critics and opponents consider her a ‘Proponent of Dictatorship’. Criticism of the government led by Sheikh Hasina, especially in the cases of suppression of freedom of the press, torture of journalists, disappearances and murders of journalists is everywhere. The United States has already sanctioned several officers of the country’s law enforcement agencies (RAB) for their alleged involvement in human rights violations.

During the ongoing regime of Awami League, many journalists have been killed, many journalists have been attacked and sued, many print, electronic and online media have been shut down.

More than a thousand injured journalists in five years

According to the ‘Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK, Law and Justice Center in english)’, a human rights organization in the country, 35 journalists were killed in Bangladesh between 1992 to 2023. From 2013 to 2018 a total of 1,226 journalists were injured, killed and tortured. Among them, Awami League tortured 383 journalists. Police killed 130 and 240 journalists were tortured by various terrorists. Not a single case was given a fair trial.

Asak also says that in 6 months from January to June this year (2023), about 119 journalists have been tortured and harassed in various ways.

In 2013, Dainik Amar Desh, Diganta TV, Channel One, CSB and 35 online portals together were shut down. As a result, thousands of Bangladeshi journalists have become unemployed.

Fed up with attacks, prosecutions and torture, many prominent and renowned journalists of Bangladesh have chosen a life in exile. Among them are Mahmudur Rahman, editor of ‘Amar Desh’ newspaper, columnist Pinaki Bhattacharya, journalist Kanak Sarwar and Elias Hossain.

Digital Security Act, the new threat of freedom of press

The issue of torture of journalists and suppression of newspapers in Bangladesh is being widely criticized in international circles beyond the boundaries of the country. In particular, the black law against journalists called the ‘Digital Security Act‘ has raised the concern of the international community. The US State Department’s annual report on human rights also brought up the issue of freedom of speech in Bangladesh. The U.S. report said that while freedom of expression is enshrined in Bangladesh’s Constitution. The government has failed to enforce it in many cases and that there are “significant restrictions” on freedom of expression in the country.

This matter has been mentioned in the report published by the US State Department on 30 March 2020 on the human rights situation in Bangladesh.

In the overall situation it can be understood that Bangladesh is very limited. Day by day freedom of speech in the country is shrinking. The country’s media and journalists are going through a dangerous time.

Photo credit : Syed Mahamudur Rahman/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jamil Ahmed

PORTRAIT : “We didn’t do anything wrong, we just held our microphones and turned on our cameras”

Death threats, assaults and harassment have become the daily lot of journalists around the world.

Malian journalists have been experiencing this painful reality for several years now. Malick Konaté, a journalist for AFP and founder of the MAKcom communication agency, who was forced to leave Mali and find refuge in Dakar in September, then in France in January 2023. In an interview for the Maison des Journalistes, he looks back on his story.

Malick Konaté has more than a decade of experience under his belt, after being selected in 2012 to join the Jeunes Francophones du Monde web radio as a host.

A rising star in Bamako, he took part in a training course with RFI in Paris the same year. 

Thanks to the private Malian TV channel Wôklôni-TV, the young man trained with the journalism school of Lille, present in Bamako. 

It was in 2015 that he embarked on a career as a photojournalist, building on an already extensive track record. He quickly rose to the position of editor-in-chief for a private television channel, where he remained until 2018, when he became director of the Africom-TV channel.

Une photo de Magatte Gaye.

He then began his first productions for AFP, and now collaborates with BFMTV, TF1 and Al-Jazeera.

Ambitious, Malick also runs his own communication agency called MAKcom since 2018 and a TV channel has been broadcasting his programs for five years now.

The thirty-year-old has always covered sensitive subjects in Mali. Since the coup d’état in May 2020, he has been subjected to major smear campaigns and harassment on social networks.

2022, the beginning of the end 

In 2022, a dozen people were employed there: they endured the waves of harassment but held the line, before the fateful date of October 31, 2022, when the campaigns took on “out-of-this-world proportions”. 

In France, BFMTV broadcasted a documentary entitled “Wagner, les mercenaires de Poutine” (Wagner, Putin’s mercenaries), provoking ire on Malian social networks. Despite his efforts, the journalist emeritus had no choice but to downsize. 

According to many anonymous online voices calling for his head, Malick shot the footage of the mass grave at Gossi, a massacre that the French army attributes to Wagner. 

“Malick Konaté never shot this sequence. The images of the Gossi mass grave were shot by a French army drone, which transmitted them to the editorial offices”, explains BFM in an article.

The channel also points out that Malick “never participated in the writing of the report”, to no avail: the journalist is now the victim of hundreds of online threats and calls to “slaughter the enemy”.

Accused of trying to spy on and “sell” Mali to the West, Malick has since been the victim of grueling online harassment campaigns. “On social networks, it’s usually fake profiles that attack me and threaten me with death, but I don’t know who’s behind it all”, he explains over the phone in a measured, serious tone typical of radio journalists. Unperturbed, Malick doesn’t beat around the bush and answers each of our questions directly.

Une photo de Massihoud Barry.

Journalists, pawns in geopolitical conflicts

“I proved that they weren’t my images because I wasn’t in a position to shoot them myself. But people think we’re lying, me and the French media. They were looking for an alibi to attack France, but not head-on, which is why they attacked me”, he explains in a neutral voice. “We can’t touch France, so we’re going to shoot Malick”.

It was a dark period for the journalist, then hit hard by depression and isolated by everyone. 

“I was attacked at my office by two hooded people, and nothing was done despite my complaint. Another time, audio messages circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp, where my identity was revealed and there were calls to shoot me”. 

Although the authorities have the stalker’s personal details, the investigation is stalling.

“I was also receiving a lot of anonymous calls telling me I was going to be killed”, he also clarifies. As a result of all these security breaches, Malick left the country on September 1, 2022.

“I suspected the Malian authorities knew and approved of what was happening around me. I felt lost on the spot”. A journalist abandoned by his own country, whose constitution nevertheless guarantees freedom of the press.

“My complaints were going nowhere, until I contacted the group for the maintenance in order to secure my office”, where he received threatening letters and unfriendly visits. 

“The General Staff sent four agents to my office on July 1, 2022. When they arrived, they asked me for 60,000 CFA francs [around 90 euros], then 50,000 per agent per month for protection, which I accepted. But the agents only stayed for three hours before returning to the camp, without explaining why. They never came back, leaving him even more in the lurch. Malick realized he had to leave the country, and organized his departure. 

But even outside the country, the journalist continued to face pressure. On November 2, 2022, a judicial investigation brigade in Bamako called him and informed him that his presence was required for a meeting with the brigade’s commander, without any further details.

Cautious, Malick replies that he is not in Mali, but will drop by the office when he returns to Bamako.

“The brigadier called me back a little later to find out when I’d be back, I didn’t reply with any precision. That evening, our conversation was leaked during our lives on social networks by cyberactivists.”

“It said that I had fled justice and the country, that the head of the brigade was trying to arrest me. The same day, they sent soldiers dressed in civilian clothes to my house to arrest me. Who else but the brigade could have passed on the content of our exchange? They were in direct contact with the cyber activists.”

The people in favor of the media and journalists 

With over 120,000 followers on Facebook and 145,000 on Twitter, Malick loses neither hope nor faith in the Malian people’s solidarity with their press. 

“I regularly receive calls and voicemails of support, I’m sometimes recognized on the street in Paris where people salute my work. I also see a lot of Facebook posts defending me, and press organizations like the Press Association support me”.

This popular enthusiasm fuels his ambitions, making him “even more eager to inform. It’s a risky business, but it’s worth it. All the people interviewed for this report were informed and in agreement, even the well-known speakers in Mali. We didn’t do anything wrong, we just held out our microphones and turned on our cameras”.

For Malick, his detractors “are supporters of the transition”, known but few in number. “These people think we have to preach to the same tune as them, and would like us all to support the transition”. But journalists “are not supporters” of any political camp. 

“Our job is to report the facts and give the public the information it needs”, asserts Malick over the phone. 

“They denigrate us for everything, they haven’t understood and don’t know what journalism really is. We’re seen as enemies of the country, paid by the West to bring Mali down. Maybe they’re being paid to support the transition. After all, a thief always thinks that everyone steals like him”, concludes the journalist with one of his famous maxims.

But what to do now? There’s no stopping Malick, who is continuing his investigations from France. One day, however, he intends to “return to Bamako if the situation stabilizes and the State ensures my protection”.

He assures us that he will continue his work as a reporter until the end. “We are neither friends nor enemies of anyone, we are not communicators. We’re here to report the facts and inform public opinion. There can be no democracy without the press; one cannot live without the other. My fellow citizens and the Malian government need to realize this.”

By Maud Baheng Daizey. Translation by Andrea Petitjean.

Exclusive. Does the end of the war in Tigray mean the return of freedom of the press ? 


After two years of tug-of-war between the government of Abiy Ahmed and the Liberation Front of Tigray (TPLF), the conflict seems to have arrived at its end. The exact number of victims as well as the precise unfolding of events however remain to be determined, the Tigray region had been closed to journalists since 2021. With peace, is the return to the press possible in the region? 

The MDJ had the opportunity to contact journalists and defenders of media based in Ethiopia to inquire about the situation. If the violence in Tigray ended up stopping, the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara are the new theater of human cruelty. Moreover, massacres are often still reported in the war-torn region by the war, the population fearful that this one will not know a short truce. 

Tens of thousands of deaths in two years

The conflict started in November 2020, when the Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed attempted to organize elections in the Tigray region in the north of the country, in which a part of the inhabitants claimed independence. The regional authorities had defied the power for some months already and the prime minister Ahmed no longer intended to be silent. Accusing the TPLF of having attacked the military bases, the prime minister had then sent his army to Tigray. But the armed rebels would not let the military reach the capital region Mekele, repelling them from day one. 

The rebels of the TPLF had then won all of Tigray to “liberate” it from Abiy Ahmed’s government. Numerous testimonies denouncing hundreds of abuses by the army and the rebels, provoking the death of tens of thousands of people, implying thousands of rapes and pushing two millions Tigrayans into exile. For two months, the famine threatens the 13 millions of Tigrayans traumatized by the war, while the destruction of infrastructures leads to grave problems with water supply for numerous cities. 

The situation is such that Doctors Without Borders announced in July 2021 to stop their activities in the region, following the death of three members of their staff on June 24. Hundreds of sexual abuses had equally traumatized the population, committed as much by the separatist rebels as the Abiy Ahmed regime, however without any media coverage. As the freedom of the press was already restrained, the Ethiopian journalists and localized foreigners in Tigray were forced out in November 2021, i.e. one year since the start of the war. 

Despite the peace, the press is always muzzled

Abiy Ahmed’s government banned the coverage of military operations in Tigray, Afar and Amara and imprisoned journalists during their reporting, according to NGOs and several reporters. We contacted the African branch of the Committee of Journalists Protection, an international NGO, that indicated to us, “there isn’t any assurance on a return of journalist security in Tigray or the opening of possible investigations on crimes that they would have suffered.” They also informed us of the liberation of three journalists of the channel Tigray TV,  “but two others are still in detention,” according to Mythoko Mumo, responsible for the Sub Saharan branch of the CPJ. 

The peace treaty between the Ethiopian federal authority and the Tigrayan rebels was signed on November 2, 2022, formalizing the disarmament of the TPLF. The federal authorities are now working on the reestablishment of the electric current, to deliver humanitarian aid in famine stricken areas, and to retrieve the heavy arms used by the TPLF. The federal army and the foreign forces (Erythrée) were also invited to withdraw from the country under the peace agreement. 

An apparent return to normal, because many interrogations remain in suspense without the work of media actors. Certain men and women nevertheless tried to bring some information to Ethiopia and the international community.

Amongst the whistleblowers, Solomon Weldegerima and Isaac Welday, two investigative journalists revealed the names of prisoners to the general public, although the communication services in Tigray are only partially restored.

Solomon Weldegerima is a Tigranyan journalist who worked in a regional media before the war. He fled his house during the repeated assaults not far from his home, being a prime target as a journalist. For him, his colleagues and himself would soon have new access to Tigray, in the controlled zones by the federal government and international forces. “On the other hand, they will not access the zones under the yoke of the TPLF.” Solomon explains, “to battle for the truth,” and to have no fear of belligerents. For him, “peace cannot return as long as the TPLF,” which he did not hesitate to label, “a terrorist group,” stays in power.

Solomon Weldegerima during a press conference.

Solomon has not lived in Tigray for two years, but at the border of the region where he reached during this period to obtain information on the war from the inside. The reporter only has one goal: to show the atrocities committed by the army and the TPLF, as well as to combat the “the propaganda” of the rebels in the region. His last excursion, of which he does not wish to communicate the exact date, lasted two days. He obtained information from locals who still have an internet connection, although it is very unreliable, “mainly workers for NGOs or humanitarian associations. I include people supporting the governmental action and those considering that the TPLF is at the origin of the war. Some anti-TPLF fighters spoke to me also. Many of them were only able to interact with me with the restoration of government communication services.”

Not a word on the abuses of the army of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who according to numerous external observers had participated in murderous raids and campaigns of mass rapes, as well as blocked the delivery of humanitarian aid.

“The TPLF was the first in declaring the war during a blitz fomented by the leader Seque Turea. They should be held entirely responsible for the war. However, abuses have been committed by the two camps, and all the individuals that had participated should be arrested and judged.” 

“I could not move freely, I was terrorized by the rebels. They threatened anyone not supporting their version of the facts and considered them as enemies to Tigray to be destroyed.” 

He says he was blackmailed by the TPLF for doing his job as a journalist, including the leaking of his personal information. That does not stop him though: “an ethiopian proverb says: hilmi ferihka leydekeska aytihedry, you cannot sleep without being frightened by a dream. Mine is to expose the truth. I know that the TPLF is dangerous but as long as I fight for my people, the risk is worth it.”

The journalist affirms that some journalists “governmental and independent” will soon be able to have the right to go to Tigray again, “notably in the regions under the control of the ENDF, the ethiopian army: Welkayt, Shre, Adwa, Aksum. Raya remains accessible.”

He also confirms, “the atrocities committed by the rebels: the mass rapes, robberies, and destruction,” have been commonplace in Tigray for two years now, “but also in the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara.” 

Propaganda, the number one enemy of the press

Solomon repeats it on multiple occasions throughout our interview, the intense propaganda of the TPLF interferes with the understanding of events within the region, further dividing the population. For two years, I struggle against the rebels through the debunking of fake news, in order to allow my people and the international community to shed light on the war. We should realize the gravity of the danger that the TPLF represents.” He hopes that he will soon be able to return home freely. Moreover, he decided to launch his media in order to distribute his own information. 

Isaac Welday, another independent journalist, had reported in the media on the arrests of five Tigrayan journalists in May and July of 2022 by the federal authorities for covering events in the region. He tells us he had worked for the interim government, a little before the start of the war. 

He subsequently left his job to concentrate entirely on his vocation as a journalist. “I want to re-establish the truth, I am not on anyone’s side,” he assured over the phone. On three occasions, I was arrested by the federal government and placed in custody. For him, the rebels, like the government, “are torturers. They are anti-journalists and against all the actors of peace,” civil or not.

For the director of the African office of Reporters Without Borders, Sadibou Marong, the speech is not so clear-cut. “The peace agreement is a good sign for the future, notably for a better circulation of information and journalists in the country. But there is always the fear of retaliation and numerous journalists prefer to stay safe abroad. It is up to the authorities to work on their return and give them guarantees. According to him, the bigger problem resides “in the control of the narrative of the war, i.e. the propaganda and misinformation on social networks that has been picked up by the media.”

The NGO has struggled since the start of the war against this propaganda, “that we find as much within the TPLF and the federal government. The authorities spoke of a security operation but it was really a war,” he stated. The TPLF and the central power are guilty of abuses and arbitrary detentions. When the war broke out we helped to assassinate and detain journalists. Certain people were accused of promoting terrorism and were sentenced to death. Others were persecuted by the federal authorities and had to go into exile abroad or seek assistance.”

The peace has been signed between the parties since November 2, 2022 only, highlighting its fragility. Despite the violence that endures in the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara, the african and european Unions try to endorse the peace agreement, like the head of foreign diplomacy Catherin Colonna on January 12 and 13. She was accompanied by her counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, and president of the African Commission, Moussa Faki. The total balance of victims remains unknown, due to poor documentation despite the efforts of several journalists who remained in place. The repatriation of the exiled, the counting and judicial processing of crimes during these two years, the future of the TPLF and Tigray remains a problem without solutions that multiple parties have yet to discuss. 

Written by Maud Baheng Daizey, translated by Amelia Seepersaud.