PANAF (Pan-African Network for Artistic Freedom) strongly condemns the recent arrest of Yonas Berhene Mewa, renowned film director and founder of the esteemed Gumma Film Awards. The arrest, which occurred on 9 June, immediately following the con- clusion of the highly regarded award ceremony at the SkyLight Hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, has sparked deep concern within the artistic community.
According to eyewitnesses, security forces, disguised in civilian clothing, apprehended both Mewa and his wife around 11pm. While Mewa’s wife was subsequently released, he was denied bail and remained unjustly detained at the Sostegna police station, await- ing a court appearance scheduled for 12 June, 2023, which raises questions about the transparency and adherence to due pro- cess in this matter.
The authorities claim that Mewa’s arrest is allegedly connected to the presence of TikTok artist and activist Lij Magna at the event. Magna’s make-up depicted a bullet wound on her forehead and barbed wire on her lips, symbolising the prevailing silence and fear experienced by Ethiopians amidst escalating violence and loss of life.
We call upon the local authorities to release Mewa immediately and ensure the protection of artistic expression in Ethiopia. PANAF stands in solidarity with Yonas Berhene Mewa, and the wider artistic community in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian netizens expressed their views on social media regarding the incident.
Here are some of their comments:
“Detention of film maker Yonas Berhane Mewa despite bail, for apparently another TV personality artwork showing a bullet wound on her head & barbed wire on her mouth at an arts event is unlawful . Artistic expression is part & parcel of freedom of expression. Release immediately” – Daniel Bekele, Chief Commissioner, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission wrote on twitter.
“Is it forbidden to peacefully express your thoughts, even if you choose to wear makeup or carry a sign? Should the event organiser be held accountable for the attire and makeup choices of attendees?” (translated from Amharic) – Elias Meseret, Journalist wrote on Facebook.
We will continue to monitor this situation closely and provide updates.
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