ADDIS ABABA — Ethiopian journalist Temesgen Desalegn was released from jail late Tuesday as all charges against him were dropped.
Editor-in-chief of Feteh newspaper, Temesgen was released after a week of imprisonment during which he was put in solitary confinement and denied bail because officials feared he was a flight risk.
However, the Ethiopian Ministry of Justice decided there were no grounds for his imprisonment and dropped all the charges against him, which included defamation, instigating the public to overthrow the government and using his newspaper to spread false information.
Temesgen says he doesn’t know why the government decided not to prosecute him, nor is he sure whether his paper will resume publishing.
“They simply took me out of prison," he said. "I asked them why the charges have been dropped, but they said nothing.”
The Feteh newspaper has been banned since July 20th. According to government officials, that week's publication issued "provoking" articles on Muslim protests in Addis Ababa, and on the health of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died last week.
According to Temesgen’s lawyer Mola Zegeya, charges against Feteh's publisher, who had been accused of inciting public violence, have also been dropped. The publisher, says Zegeya, still doesn’t feel comfortable with resuming publication of Feteh.
“I do expect that it is going to be published because the judge refused the [government's] request to stop the publishing of the paper," he said, explaining that he has been talking with the publisher.
Temesgen's release raises the question about whether Ethiopia is changing its policies concerning press freedom in the post-Meles era. Human rights groups say there is no freedom of the press in the country and often criticize Ethiopia’s government.
Temesgen also says he is not yet sure whether post-Meles Ethiopia will be different for journalists.
“It’s difficult to say something about that but hopefully there will be some change," he said. "But I will continue our work and keep writing.”
Several attempts to get a response from an Ethiopian government spokesman were unsuccessful.