Ethiopian Editor Convicted for Inciting Public With Articles Bloomberg News

October 15th, 2014 Print Print Email Email

An Ethiopian editor is facing as many as 10 years in prison after being convicted of inciting the public against the government through his newspaper articles, his lawyer said.

Temesgen Desalegn, the former editor of Feteh, a defunct weekly newspaper, was convicted yesterday by the Federal High Court on charges that also included defaming the government and distorting public opinion, after a case that lasted about two years, lawyer Ameha Mekonnen said. He will be sentenced on Oct. 27.

“Temesgen becomes the first journalist who’s accused and found guilty only for what he’s written in a newspaper,” Ameha said by phone today from Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. “The evidence was only his writing, nothing else.”

Communications Minister Redwan Hussien said that the conviction was for articles Temesgen wrote for Feteh about two years ago. The case concerned “incitement and misinforming the public,” he said by phone.

Ethiopia is Africa’s second-biggest jailer of journalists after neighboring Eritrea as of Dec. 2013, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Government officials say journalists are not above the law and aren’t prosecuted because of their profession.

Last week, an Ethiopian court sentenced three magazine-owners in absentia to more than three years imprisonment each on charges of instigating the public to overthrow the government and fomenting ethnic tension. Temesgen was involved with one of their publications, Fact, Ameha said. The trial of six bloggers and three journalists accused of links with outlawed groups resumes tomorrow in Addis Ababa.

Temesgen was prosecuted under Article 257 of the country’s 2004 Criminal Code, Ameha said. The provision relates to the “provocation and preparation” of a range of crimes against the state, according to the law. An Ethiopian court banned Feteh’s distribution in July 2012 after it published front-page stories on the illness of late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and protests by Muslims in Addis Ababa.

  1. Jenberu
    | #1

    Preaching hatred and Inciting violence in name of political opposition by abusing democratic free speech is unacceptable immoral act and it is punishable in the court of law.

  2. Ye Gonder Jegna
    | #2

    Ethiopia is civilized country thus does not allow tribal hate mongering and inciting violence among the tribes by misinformation in the stealth of journalism. Beside No profession is above the law, must abide by the constitutional law of the land or face justice.

    May God Bless Ethiopia!

  3. Development without freedom
    | #3

    Thugs that control mass media choose to arrest journalists, instead of correcting the alleged misinformation. This shows a single journalist that tells the truth, using limited resources, is stronger than a government, that controls mass media and spreads false propaganda. This fact should encourage anyone to tell the truth using all the means available to them, however limited.

  4. Tibebe
    | #4

    What else is new? We have rulers who don’t understand their own Constitution. We have Ignorant Rulers, who depend on American leaders blessings instead of depending on their own people. The regime in Ethiopia is practicing naked injustice and showing enormous disregard for the basic democratic principles. I am sure this is “good news” for the EPRDF cadres who celebrate utter ignorance and stupidity.

  5. Zinash
    | #5


    MOST Ethiopians are sentenced to slavery . Ethiopia is forced into slavery to the Woyanes childrens and their foreign partners. The absence of critical thinking among the young Ethiopians is the main cause of the ability for the government to keep the democracy at an infant stage WITH ALMOST NONE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. . . In the 1960s and mid-1970s, students challenged the system. Students were politically and socially very conscious and put the needs of the people before their own. For instance, student demonstrations in support of land-to-the tiller, against the change in educational financing, and against the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) of the former Southern Rhodesia (currently Zimbabwe) are symptomatic of these stances. Now, however, critical thinking has been relegated to rote learning due to fear on the part of the students as well as the failure of the educational system both during the Derg and EPRDF regimes to foster challenges to the system.

    During the Imperial era, there was much academic freedom. As long as student action was limited to the campuses, there was not much fear for what went on inside. This created an environment of debate and dialogue and nurtured fairly vibrant discussions. The only fear was self-inflicted by the students themselves as the radical groups did not provide room for alternative perspectives.

    The second anchor for the delivery of education is the existence, in-house, of a critical number of qualified faculty with terminal degrees (PhD) in their field. At the time of my visit, the Graduate Program started with one PhD who happened to be the Dean. Due to pressure from the MOE, the Program started with a view to using visiting Professors from other academic and non-academic institutions in the country. In principle, this is an acceptable approach in the short-run as long as there was a persistent search as well as dedicated (or assigned) personnel to push the effort. For the medium- to the long-run, it required a clear plan of capacity building to have in-house faculty. The absence of faculty took a heavy toll on the students as it was not possible to phase the delivery of the program according to the curriculum. Finding visiting professors available for an extended time (at least four months) was hard. When a visiting professor was found s/he would come 2 or 3 times in a semester for 2-3 weeks at a time. Classes would run for 5 to 6 hours a day. This way, students would get the required number of contact hours in aggregate, but the work bunched too much during the visit. In addition once the visitor left, students did not have any other fallback to ask questions or seek clarification.

    This has taken a toll on the visiting professors as well. A colleague informed me that almost all of Addis Ababa university senior instructors are involved in block course offerings in the other universities which has created physical and mental fatigue and unavailability of the professors at the mother institution to provide the necessary mentoring to their students. Moreover, the faculty has no time to be involved in research, publication and academic discourse. On my next visit in 2014, however, the university had hired two Indian professors. This was a significant stop-gap measure provided that the expatriate staff has the necessary qualification and experience.

    Around Summer 2011, MOE and the universities had put out an invitation through the different Embassies particularly in the West inviting Ethiopians abroad to assist in the initiative. However, serious attention had not been given to this source. The invitation was more symbolic than serious, but it still remains an excellent opportunity for both the Ethiopian expatriates and the universities.

    The third anchor (or input) is infrastructure. Significant investment has been made to build class rooms, dormitories, libraries and laboratories. Building and beautification is still on-going. Unfortunately, the infrastructure is in a poor state of repair: walls are cracking, active electrical wires are in the open, desks and tables are breaking, and the blackboards are in bad shape, etc. At this pace, the infrastructure may not last too long. The beautiful libraries had no books and other necessary facilities. Even text books were unavailable or were in short supply. The problem is not financial resources. If one less building was built, the savings would have gone to buying books and the necessary equipment and facilities. In addition, if attention had been given to consolidation instead of expansion (new buildings), it would have been possible to repair the existing infrastructure and acquire the necessary inputs that are currently missing or in short supply.

    Let me give two examples. First, because of repeated electric black-outs, the university had installed stand-by generator(s) that would supposedly kick-start the moment there is power failure from the inter-connected source. This worked very well in the late 2011. Unfortunately, the generators were not functional when I visited in early 2014. The second example relates to printing and copying machines. The Department I served had three of them. Upon my arrival, I was told one of them had been sent for repair. The second was long in the Dean’s Office who was out of office for most of the time. The third heated-up often that faculty had to run from one office to the other to print the tests or exam they prepared. The printer at the repair shop had not comeback by the time I left. These are very simple problems but their resolution will bring significant relief to the delivery of education. Unfortunately, no one pays attention to them. It is disturbing to note why the administration does not appreciate the problems as well as its impact on the delivery of education. In the area of infrastructure and facilities, the weakest and the most stifling is the ICT situation. Accessing the Internet is extremely difficult partly due to the state of the telecommunication infrastructure in the country and failure of the universities to give attention to the issue. International organizations based in Addis Ababa, such as the United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU), and diplomatic missions do not have this problem because of they use dedicated satellite connections. Provided that academic freedom is granted, the technological problem is only a matter of investment as each university or a group of them could have a dedicated satellite connection until the telecommunication infrastructure in the country improves. Having a satellite connection would facilitate the conduct of classes from afar (say a professor residing in the US or UK could run classes without moving to Ethiopia). With appropriate technology such as Blackboard and New Class Room such distance education could be carried out even more efficiently. Easy access to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) such as Coursera, edX, iTuneU, as well as YouTube would elevate the quality of education significantly. Unfortunately, this cannot happen today. The fourth ingredient (anchor) in educational delivery and efficiency is the administrative support and leadership. During my visit I found the administration to be highly centralized and bureaucratic. More attention was given to adhering to bureaucratic requirements rather than the expediency the academics required. For example, normally books and supplies should be procured in advance so that these will be available when school commences. Although budget had been allocated for the procurement of books, the academic units were notified to provide a list of books for acquisition in September. Once the list was prepared, faculty was required to float tender and obtain three bids to make the procurement competitive. This is a standard operational practice where there are many publishers and distributors. In this one town, there was no publisher but one distributor. Then, faculty had to be sent to Addis Ababa to seek quotations from distributors based there. Until the quotations were received and purchase order issued, the semester had already ended without the use of the books.

    I have mentioned the absence or the critical shortage of books. For the course I taught, a temporary agreement was made to copy the book from the one or so copies available and provide one copy each to the students. The task was given to the university printing and publishing unit. It took some time to reach such a decision, but once the decision was made, it took the unit about two months to complete the task. To make matters worse, the quality of the copies was very poor, several pages were missing, the remaining were mixed-up and it took a good chunk of time to put things in order. Everything was finally completed just one month before the final exam.

    Sound leadership is crucial to make the system function well. Here, I emphasize leadership provided by the higher echelon of the university administration. In my observation, maintaining ethnic balance in assigning the highest positions is obvious. I have also heard from at least one of Vice Presidents (VPs) self-declare his political affiliation. There is good reason to think that a few others were party member too. Of course, many held PhDs in their respective fields of study. Beyond their political affiliation and ethnic origin, of great concern is their inexperience and lack of exposure to educational administration.

    Let us look at the profile of the Presidents at the former Haile Selassie I University in order to make a comparative evaluation. The first three Ethiopian Presidents of Haile Selassie I University between the 1950s and mid-1970s were educated in the West (United States and UK) and have had exposure to the administration of education, at least, from the point of view of students. Three in fact had PhDs in their respective fields, of which one was in Education. At the same time, VPs and Dean positions were held with people of similar qualification and exposure. Equally important, at least two Deans of Faculty (Law and Business) and some senior faculty members came from American universities. The Alemaya and Gondar campuses were run along US practices and standard and with US staff. The Ethiopianization effort has been commendable but the approach gave the Ethiopian leadership the opportunity for learning-by-doing.

    More importantly, these officials had the enlightenment, foresight and the strong personal character to maintain academic freedom and the campuses’ integrity from political interference4. As I alluded to previously, the police stayed outside of campus except once or twice (one was Tilahun Gizaw’s funeral). Although capable in the respective areas of study and very personable individuals, the current leadership has failed to inculcate and assure academic freedom. Many of these people in leadership position were in primary or secondary school during the Imperial time and have not experienced the freedom that existed on campus. For that matter as one autocratic regime was followed by another, they have not experienced freedom on-campus or outside. The individuals deserve utmost respect and gratitude for their service but a lot more is required of them and they could achieve much more with the limited resources, provided there is a realization of the situation and good will to bring change.

    To finish let me suggest a few ideas for the way forward. Some of these may be very simplistic and could be implemented quickly while others would take time and resources to implement. The proposals are preliminary and the details would need to be fleshed out if these are accepted as a point of departure.

    First, it is imperative to restore the academic freedom on campus. Young people are industries, vibrant and also rebellious. This should be welcome. Students should be allowed, in fact encouraged, to express their views as long as they respect the views of others. What happens outside of campus should be left to authorities with jurisdiction there. However, the university officials should stand to defend their students even outside of campus when/if their views on campus is explicitly or implicitly used against them. A generation that does not question the past, makes its own contribution, and passes the nation to the next generation would be a failure. Students are capable to make positive contribution and could rise to the challenge provided that they are given room. Thus, the leadership should use their political party affiliation to realize this goal as Lij Kassa did during his tenure as the President of Haile Selassie I University.

    The second proposal is organizing training seminars in educational administration for the senior officials at home complemented by a sabbatical leave to selected universities abroad so that they could understand the day to day management of the affairs of a university from some experienced and seasoned professionals. At the same time, attaching one or two foreign (or even Ethiopian) university administrators (currently active or retired) to advise the new leadership for a year or so would be highly valuable. Thirdly, having a critical number of professors in the different disciplines in-house is beneficial. While this takes time, there could be a couple of measures that could be taken in the short run. As alluded to above, using expatriate Ethiopians is a mutually beneficial endeavor. There are many Ethiopian professors teaching in Western universities who would like to serve in the “new” Ethiopian universities during their sabbatical period or on short visits offering intensive training over two or three months. In addition, many of the UN Agencies, the offices of the regional development agencies and Think Tanks in Addis Ababa have personnel with terminal degrees whose potential could be mobilized to run seminars on various issues. In the early 2000, these organizations had over 50 economists and other development specialists willing to help if approached by the universities. These have a good potential as a fallback strategy in the short-run.

  6. Sam
    | #6

    How I have enjoyed over the years reading Temesgen’s articles! you read any one of his article, you get the feeling he spent some time on it to be informative, accurate, and non-judgmental. But none of those qualities mean anything to the Ethiopian government. In Ethiopia to be a journalist there are two ways. One, you have to be an EPDRF’s politics cheerleader. The most admired journalists by the government. Two, you could be a journalist who sometimes criticize the government, but with a catch. What you are criticizing you have to admit could be rectified if the government pays more attention. The best example: the “Reporter” in Addis. If you are a journalist who could not fit in the two categories, you better enjoy life as much as you can while doing your journalistic duty because prison is for sure your destination. Why is EPDRF so determined to wipe out independent media altogether? The EPDRF politicians, I think, convinced themselves that what true journalists write exist only in their minds. Not in the population. If you keep those “sick” minds in prison, the population will be governed as the government’s wish. Many governments over times have fantasized in this theory, but they found it to be not true. The Ethiopian government might throw Temesgen to prison, but by so doing they cannot change the political reality in the country. That political reality exists whether he is in the small prison or in the big one, which it seems that he is going to leave for the small one.

  7. Ittu Aba Farda
    | #7

    Now this is a no-no. It is obvious that there is an easiness and scare about terror every where in general and even more so in the Horn of Africa. It is justifiably so. Al Shabaab is not too far away and has been making threats to kill and maim innocent people over there. So far the security apparatus of the regime back home have successfully thwarted such destructive and deadly barbaric incidences to happen. Kudos for that!!!
    But it seems that they are taking full advantage of this imminent threat to throw innocent individuals in the slammer because something the regime does like has been uttered or written. The leaders of the regime seem to have a want of correct perceptions of what is written or said to rightfully distinguish from what is rumpus intended and what is just sheer error(exaggeration). The government has enormous capabilities to expose errors by the private media if any and in the meanwhile sowing the seeds of democracy. Such hounding of those who are in the media will only help clog the safety valve through which others can vent their complaints and frustrations. I am not so naive to expect the culture differing political discords were settled out of court by way of violent clashes. Every peaceful means should be attempted unabated to settle differences. Millions have already died during countless wars. I don’t think you will find a place in that country with no human remains of victims of past political mayhems. Free media is a safety valve and it should not be plugged to silence.
    Let’s admit it. Exaggeration is part of our clan based egalitarian society where very few people were able to read and write. And you bring zealots from both dominant religions into the mix you will find one trying to outdo that other be it in terms of killings or repressive rule. When one killed 10 the other one will come back and kill 20 and so on. When one tells a feat of make it rain in the middle of a drought season, the other tells a story where he has made a wild giraffe obey his order and provide milk for the entire clan. So exaggeration has been everywhere and it is still seeping into our mode of telling stories. But we have come a long way to be able to understand such a habit. Millions of us have had the opportunity of living a good majority of our adult lives in developed industrial society where asking the what, how and why questions is the norm. So the government back home have untapped resources to expose and discredit erroneous reporting without dragging reporters to court and jailing them. Otherwise, more and more people will be disoriented, frustrated and in the end and would end up seeing no purpose to go on as usual. Such unwanted and over the top harassment of reporters will only end up to be in the service of those who are already hell bent to violence means. This is what the Al-Toweel in Asmara craving for, the juicy news he is looking for.

    Once again, this is my usual and very cheap 2 cents worth of opinion.

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