Ferew Abebe, Editor-in-chief of Sendek, a private Amharic weekly, was summoned on Wednesday May 15thto the Makelawi Police station (Federal Police Crime Investigation Department) and was questioned by the police for five hours before he was released on a 5000.00 birr bail.
Ferew was accused of defaming the name of Azeb Mesfin, widow of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawion a news story that was published in the front page of Sendek on October 10, 2012.
The story detailed the refusal by Azeb to vacate her residence inside the palace following the death of her husband, and well after the current Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn officially took power. The newspaper said that the new PM had found it difficult to leave his residence early enough to go to his office inside the palace and return late to avoid any inconvenience for the people in his neighborhood all because the former first lady’s refusal to vacate the residence.
The Police first summoned the Deputy Editor-In-Chief,Fanuel Kinfu,on Monday, May 13, 2013, but released him with no bail. According to the Ethiopian Press Law the editor-in-chief takes responsibility for any publication published in the newspaper under his/her supervision.
Upon hearing the news, Ferew has contacted the Police and agreed to appear at the Station on Wednesday. According to him, the have Police repeatedly asked him to reveal his sources, which he refused. Inflexible as it is, the Ethiopian Press Law protects a journalist from revealing his/her sources. But the country’s penal code entitles a court to induce journalists to reveal their source if a crime has been committed against the constitutional order, national defense force, or security of the state, which constitutes “clear and imminent danger.”
In an interview with this magazine, Ferew said the Police were not willing to share any information as to who is filing the charges against him. “I am worried about what has happened, we had no intention to defame anyone and we believe we have credible information about the story,” Ferew said, adding he doesn’t even know who is preparing to file charges against him or his newspaper. “It is confusing.”
CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said in a statement “”we call on authorities to abandon their long-standing pattern of vindictive persecution of journalists who raise questions about issues of public interest, such as the occupation of a public building by the former first lady.”
In an interview with this magazine Shimelis Kemal, state minister at the government communication affairs office,said that the police maintain the right to question citizens if they believe an act of crime or defamation has taken place. “The country’s anti-defamation law is for everyone and a journalist is not immune,” he said and asked, “what is the big deal?” He further said that that the police acted within their constitutional mandate and that they didn’t commit a pre-trial detention.
Responding to the statement by CPJ Shimelis said the organization’s intent was to promote journalists who “condone the Holocaust and genocide together and write an editorial. CPJ’s version of freedom of the press and ethical journalism is a perverted conception.”
Our attempts to reach the police were to no avail.