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"Feteh" editor faces criminal charges over criticism of government in Ethiopia

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 10 August 2012 - ARTICLE 19 condemns the criminal charges of defamation and 'false rumours' brought against Temesgen Desalegn, the editor-in-chief of Feteh newspaper and the Mastwal Printing and Advertising Company, for articles critical of the government. The sentences available for such 'crimes' include life imprisonment and the death penalty.

“The charges of defamation and 'false rumours' among others flagrantly violate the right to freedom of expression, and reflect the worsening state of affairs for media freedom in Ethiopia,” said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Director for Eastern Africa. “It is wholly illegitimate to prosecute any individual, yet alone a journalist, for articles critical of the government simply because that government does not like being criticised,” he added.

Desalegn learned of his charges on 10 August through a radio broadcast without being summoned to Court. The charges, all premised on offences contained in the 2004 Criminal Code include “outrages against the Constitution or the Constitutional Order” (Article 238), “defamation and calumny” (Article 613), and “inciting the public through false rumours” (Article 486). The death penalty and life imprisonment are available sentences under Article 238 alone.

The editions of Feteh allegedly in violation of these laws were published in August 2011, February 2012, and March 2012. The first two articles referenced the oppressive nature of the current government and described the willingness of the Ethiopian youth to protest against them.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the government of Ethiopia to drop the charges against Temesgen Desalegn and Mastwal Printing and Advertising Company. We also call upon the government to stop intimidating and harassing the management of Feteh newspaper. The newspaper has not been printed since the last edition was impounded and destroyed on 20 July 2012. Further, the Criminal Code needs to be urgently reformed to reflect international standards on freedom of expression.

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