New York, August 23, 2012--Ethiopian authorities must immediately release Temesghen Desalegn, editor of the leading weekly Feteh, who was ordered jailed today pending his trial on defamation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The High Court judge deemed Temesghen a flight risk during his trial, which resumes on September 3, according to local journalists. Police summoned the journalist for questioning on August 1 and told him they were charging him over his articles published in seven editions of the weekly Feteh that were critical of the administration of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, local journalists said. Mastewal Publishing and Advertising PLC, the company that publishes Feteh, has also been charged, the same sources said.
Temesghen is being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa, the capital, local journalists said. Feteh has not been published since July 20, when the Ministry of Justice blocked the sale and distribution of 30,000 copies to suppress the paper's coverage concerning the health of Meles, the sources said. Meles died Monday of liver cancer, according to international news reports.
"Temesghen Desalegn is the ninth journalist imprisoned in Ethiopia in retaliation for critical coverage of the administration of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "Temesghen is not a criminal for expressing his constitutional right to freedom of expression. The charges against him should be dropped, and he should be released immediately."
According to a charge sheet reviewed by CPJ, authorities have cited five columns written by Temesghen between July 2011 and February 2012 as a basis of the charges.
- The journalist was charged with "outrages against the constitution or the constitutional order" stemming from two articles discussing the peaceful struggles of youth movements for political change in Ethiopia in the wake of the Arab Spring.
- He was also charged with defaming the state in connection with two columns criticizing the killing and imprisonment of student protesters; the massacres of ethnic minorities by government forces; and the ethnic federalism system introduced by Meles.
- Mastewal Publishing and Advertising was accused of allowing Temesghen to "divert or control the minds of the people in order to create riot or violence in the country." The company was charged with inciting the public to violence by running stories criticizing government control of the leaders of Ethiopia's Christian and Muslim communities.
In a statement last week, Mastewal Publishing appealed to the Ethiopian government and the diplomatic community to stand with them and protect the Ethiopian press from repression, according to news reports.
In May, Temesghen was sentenced to a suspended four-month prison term and a fine of 2,000 birrs (US$113) on charges of contempt of the judiciary over his coverage of the trial of imprisoned journalist Eskinder Nega.
- For more data and analysis on Ethiopia, visit CPJ's Ethiopia page here.