Ethiopian editor questioned over story on Meles’ widow

CPJ/New York, May 15, 2013–Ethiopian police in Addis Ababa questioned an editor for several hours today in connection with a story published in October about the widow of the late Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, according to news reports.

Officers in the Ethiopian Federal Police Crime Investigation Department interrogated Ferew Abebe, the former editor-in-chief of the private Amharic-language weekly Sendek, about his sources for the October 10, 2012, story that said Azeb Mesfin, Meles’ widow, had refused to leave the Ethiopian national place nearly two months after the prime minister’s death, local journalists said. The story, which was widely covered in local and international press, cited government sources as saying that Meles’ successor, Hailemarian Desalegn, was unable to live in the palace.

Ferew refused to identify his sources and cited Ethiopian laws that guaranteed the rights of a journalist to keep sources confidential, local journalists said. According to the Ethiopian penal code, a court can compel journalists to reveal their sources if a crime has been committed against the constitutional order, national defense force, or security of the state, which constitutes clear and imminent danger.

Police released Ferew on a bond of 5,000 birrs (US$265) pending further investigation, according to the same sources.

On Monday, police also summoned a deputy editor for Sendek to question him about the same story, local journalists said. He was released without charge.

“Ethiopian police’s demand that Ferew Abebe reveal his sources for a story published seven months ago is intimidation and tramples on the protections afforded to journalists under Ethiopian law,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on authorities to abandon their long-standing pattern of vindicative persecution of journalists who raise questions about issues of public interest, such as the occupation of a public building by the former first lady.”

At least seven journalists are behind bars in Ethiopia, making the country the second leading jailer of journalists in Africa, according to CPJ research. Ethiopia trails only Eritrea among Africa’s worst jailers of journalists, CPJ research shows.

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