Detention of Editor in Ethiopia Signals Continuation of Meles-Era Crackdown

Press Release
August 24, 2012

Detention of Editor in Ethiopia Signals Continuation of Meles-Era Crackdown

Weary of Popular Uprisings, Authorities Continue to Quell Dissent

Contact: Alex Edwards, aedwards@aiusa.org, 202-675-8761

(Washington, D.C.) -- Amnesty International condemns the detention yesterday of the editor of one of Ethiopia's last independent publications, saying the arrest is a worrying signal that the government intends to carry on targeting dissent.

Temesgen Desalegn, editor of Feteh newspaper, faces a number of criminal charges based on articles he has published criticizing the government and calling on Ethiopia's youth to peacefully protest against government repression. He is the first journalist to be detained since the announcement on Monday of the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, under whose leadership the government regularly targeted critical journalists.

"Sadly, it's business as usual in Ethiopia," said Claire Beston, Amnesty International's Ethiopia researcher. "Meles' leadership was characterized by cracking down on any dissent and dismantling the independent media, and yesterday's events show that nothing has changed."

Four charges were filed against Temesgen and his publishing house, Mastewal Printing and Advertising, including 'provocation and preparation' to incite youth, 'inciting the public through false rumors' and 'attacks against the state.'

The charges relate to various articles published in Feteh between July 2011 and March 2012. Articles cited in the charge sheet discuss subjects including how Ethiopians should be angry about the repressive practices of the government, the role of the youth as agents of change and their role in popular uprisings in Ethiopia and abroad.

Temesgen first learnt that there were charges against him on state radio Fana FM. At a court appearance on August 23, the judge denied bail and Temesgen was sent to Kaliti prison on the outskirts of the capital Addis Ababa.

Feteh and Temesgen have fallen foul of the authorities on multiple occasions, and the editor has had numerous complaints and some criminal charges filed against him in the past. These have resulted in several incidents of temporary detention, police questioning, bail costs, fines or the dropping of charges.

In late April 2012, Temesgen was fined 2,000 Ethiopian Birr (about US $115) after the Addis Ababa High Court ruled that he was guilty of contempt of court for "biased coverage" of the trial of journalist Eskinder Nega, opposition members and other government critics. The finding was based on Feteh’s publication of statements from some of the defendants in the trial.

"The nature of the latest charges against Desalegn, and the content of the articles cited as evidence, exposes not only the continuing intolerance of dissent but also the government’s fear of peaceful protests,” said Beston. "It is clear that the authorities are very concerned about the possibility of popular uprisings in the wake of last year’s events in the Middle East and North Africa."

Ethiopian authorities have repeatedly taken measures to silence suggestions that protests could take place. Concern about popular uprising has been behind the recent arrests and prosecutions of journalists, opposition members and protesters including those from the Muslim community.

"The government of Ethiopia should see the succession of Meles as an opportunity to break with the past and end arresting anyone and everyone who criticizes the government," concluded Beston. "The post-Meles government must begin a new era of respect for freedom of expression."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.