Ethiopian authorities have released a journalist who was arrested last week for stories he had published which questioned the health of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has since passed away.
Editor of Feteh newspaper, Temesghen Desalegn was jailed on Friday and faced criminal charges including defaming the state and inciting people to overthrow the government. Publishing company Mastewal Publishing and Advertising were also charged with inciting public violence for publishing the newspaper.
Publication of the newspaper, which has often criticised the Ethiopian government, was blocked by the authorities last month after front page reports related to the Prime Minister’s health were allegedly “inciting national insecurity and endangering the government and the public."
Since the order to block Feteh’s release on July 20, the newspaper has not been published.
No reason was given for the charges against Desalegn and Mastewal having been dropped, however, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, Desalegn Teressa told Bloomberg news: “After further investigation, the prosecutors have decided to drop the charges.”
Call to release other journalists
The decision was welcomed by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and Africa Advocacy Coordinator for the media watchdog, Mohamed Keita said: “We’re relieved Temesghen Desalegn has been freed and will not face criminal prosecution for his journalism.”
"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" said Keita.
Ethiopian journalist and dissident blogger, Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in jail after being charged with terrorism. His arrest, along with some other 23 reporters and activists who were given sentences varying in length from between 8 years to life, prompted concerns about the regime’s propensity to use terrorism as an excuse to silence critical voices.
Last January, the Doha Centre for Media Freedom raised the issue of journalists facing "harsh prison terms" in Ethiopia, after an Ethiopian court handed out heavy jail sentences ranging from 14 years to life to three journalists and two politicians on terrorism charges on January 26.
CPJ ranks the African nation as one of the most restrictive in the world in terms of media freedom, and Ethiopia was ranked 127th out of 179 in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index last year.
Source: DCMF, CPJ