New York — The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes today's decision by the Ethiopian Ministry of Justice to release the editor of a leading independent weekly from jail and drop all criminal charges against him. CPJ also calls for the release of eight other journalists now imprisoned in Ethiopia for their work.
Temesghen Desalegn, editor of Feteh, was released from Kality Prison in Addis Ababa, the capital, at around 3 p.m. today, according to Feteh Deputy Editor Hailemeskel Beshewamyelhu. The journalist was jailed on Friday in connection with his articles that appeared in seven editions of Feteh and criticized the policies of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, according to local journalists.
Charges against Mastewal Publishing and Advertising PLC, the company that publishes Feteh, were also dropped, according to news reports. The company had been charged with inciting the public to violence by publishing Feteh, according to a charge sheet reviewed by CPJ. Temesghen faced criminal charges including defaming the state and inciting people to overthrow the government, the sheet said.
Desalegn Teressa, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, told Bloomberg News, "After further investigation, the prosecutors have decided to drop the charges." But the government did not give an explanation as to why the charges against Temesghen and Mastewal Publishing had been dropped.
Feteh has not been published since July 20, when the government ordered Barhanena Selam, the state-run printing company, not to print the paper. The ministry blocked the distribution of a Feteh edition with a front-page story about the conflicting reports surrounding the illness of Meles, according to news reports. It was not immediately clear whether Feteh would be able to resume publishing.
"We're relieved Temesghen Desalegn has been freed and will not face criminal prosecution for his journalism," CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said. "We call on Ethiopian authorities to demonstrate a commitment to freedom of expression by releasing the eight other journalists currently imprisoned for their work and by ending the government's practice of prosecuting journalists who voice dissenting views."
Among the eight journalists in prison is independent blogger Eskinder Nega, who has been sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of participating in a terrorist organization and inciting anti-government protests, according to CPJ research.