Naomi Hunt, IPI | August 28, 2012
Aug. 28, 2012 – The International Press Institute (IPI) on Tuesday welcomed the
news that charges against Ethiopian editor Temesgen Desalegn have been withdrawn, and called for Ethiopia to
reform its stance toward the media and free all journalists who are currently
in jail for their criticism of official policies, and cease its harassment of Feteh newspaper.
Prosecutors sent a letter to the 16th Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court
saying that charges against Desalegn had been dropped
to allow time to further investigate, the Ethiopian Reporter said. IPI was told that the journalist
had been released from Kality Prison.
Temesgen Desalegn, editor
of the critical weekly newspaper Feteh, was arrested
last week just after the death of Prime Minister Meles
Zenawi was officially announced, according to reports.
He was charged with inciting the public to overthrow the constitutional order,
defaming the state, and spreading false rumours to
incite the public against the government, a legal expert in Ethiopia told IPI.
The prosecutor provided examples of newspaper articles as evidence. Among
others, they included articles calling for protests inspired by the Egypt
revolution, articles alleging that the government had implemented hateful
ethnic policies, and an article alleging that the government had infringed on religious
freedom and that Christian and Muslim leaders were ruling party cadres,
according to the information provided by the source.
Distribution of Feteh was blocked in July at the request of the information ministry,
sources told IPI at the time, after the paper planned to run front page
articles speculating on Zenawi’s health. The
publication was blocked for a second time one week later and hasn't come out
since then, reports say.
With the passing of strong-arm leader Meles Zenawi, who ruled Ethiopia for over twenty years, Ethiopia
has an opportunity to review policies that crushed human rights and democratic
principles as much as they promoted economic development.
In May, Temesgen was convicted of “biased reporting” for the paper’s coverage of
the criminal trial of several journalists and opposition members, and was
As a result of years of harassment and intimidation, other critical newspapers,
including the Awramba Times and Addis Neger, have been obliged to shut down their local operations
and their staff members forced to leave the country. Both newspapers now exist as
foreign-based news websites. Feteh newspaper,
however, continued to criticise the government and
ruling party for their policies, including the prosecution of government
critics, making it a target for harassment.
Five journalists have been sentenced to prison since December 2011. They
include Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and
Johann Persson, who were arrested over a year ago
while travelling with insurgents in a region of Somalia that is generally off
limits to the foreign press, journalists Woubshet Taye and Reyot Alemu, and journalist and critic Eskinder
Nega. All received prison terms of over 10 years. Nega, who was recently awarded the
“Freedom to Write” award from PEN America, received a sentence of 18 years.
The imprisonment of these journalists has been cause for international concern.
Indeed IPI’s own “World Press Freedom Heroes” expressed their “very strong condemnation” of the jailing of Nega and other journalists in April. At IPI’s June 2012
annual World Congress in the Caribbean, IPI members – publishers, editors and
journalists from around the world – unanimously called for the release of jailed journalists in
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