Temesghen Desalegn, owner of the now-defunct newsmagazine Feteh (Justice), is serving a three-year term in Ziway Prison, outside Addis Ababa, on charges of defamation, incitement, and false publication in connection with a series of opinion pieces he wrote in Feteh in 2012, according to news reports and a translation of the charge sheet that CPJ reviewed.
Sources close to Temesghen, including two who visit him in prison, told CPJ that Temesghen suffers from stomach and back pain for which he used to receive weekly medical support before he was jailed. The sources said that Temesghen has been denied medical access since he was imprisoned and that his back pain has worsened to the point that walking is difficult for him.
The African Charter on Human and People's Rights, to which Ethiopia is a signatory, states that authorities are obligated to ensure that its citizens receive medical attention when necessary.
CPJ's calls to the Ethiopian justice ministry in Addis Ababa, and CPJ's calls and emails to the Ethiopian embassy in Washington, were not answered.
Earlier this year, prison authorities denied Temesghen prison visits from friends and family for more than a month, according to a public letter by Temesghen's mother, Fanaye Irdachew. Authorities did not provide an explanation, but local journalists told CPJ they suspected Temesghen had been denied prison visits after an article he wrote from prison was published in several Ethiopia news websites. The articles detailed the mistreatment of prisoners at Ziway Prison.
Temesghen often criticized the authorities in his articles. In 2012, he wrote two articles that discussed the peaceful struggles of Ethiopian youth movements for political change, according to the charge sheet that CPJ reviewed. He also wrote two columns that criticized alleged government efforts to violently suppress student protesters and ethnic minorities reviewed.
"Temesghen Desalegn has not committed any crime. He is being punished for his criticism of the Ethiopian government," said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. "We call on authorities to stop harassing Temesghen and allow him immediate access to medical care."
Ethiopian authorities were holding at least 17 journalists in jail-more than twice the number as the year before-when CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1. Dozens of journalists fled Ethiopia in 2014 fearing arrest, CPJ research shows. Local journalists said they suspect authorities had cracked down on the press in order to silence critical voices ahead of May 2015 legislative elections.
· For more data and analysis on Ethiopia, visit CPJ's Ethiopia page here.
CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.