Barely weeks after Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told Aljazeera that his “government has a clear evidence” that the Zone 9 bloggers “are connected with one of the terrorist groups,” words came that five bloggers and journalists: Asmamaw Woldegiorigis, Edom Kassaye, Mahlet Fantahun,Tesfalem Weldyes and Zelalem Kiberet were released abruptly. Along with them, award-winning journalist Reeyot Alemu was also set free. Reeyot, who has been in jail since 2011, was probably months away from fully serving her five years sentence even without the customary parole which she declined to accept as it came with strings attached.
Some media claim that the release is intended to please US President Barack Obama who is scheduled to visit the country over the weekend. The government denies that saying they are simply extending “magnanimity,” to borrow the explanation of Redwan Hussein, the head of communication affaires office.
There were stories some just leaving the prisons with their pajamas on; some not sure as who to call and where to go. After 14 months spent in jails , the Ministry of Justice citing its authority given by some proclamation “decided to withdraw the charges,” according to the government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal. The ill-conceived and haphazard steps of the ministry created sigh as well as confusion. The released told media that they are not fully content as half of their colleagues are still behind bars on the same clueless charges. Their lawyer Ameha Mekonnen has a more professional concern. He told the local Amharic weekly Addis Admass that there was a precedent with the now imprisoned journalist Temesgen Desalegn whereby charges were reinstated after they had been dropped.
Then on July 20, many expected the courts to let the other four go under some pretext. Alas, that was not to be! The 19th bench of the Federal High Court citing technicalities adjourned the case for end of July. As part of the blogging ensemble charged with the same offense have been released, moving forward it is anybody’s guess what legal sense does the whole process make.
The adjournment has just added to the drama; first, Obama — if at all his upcoming visit caused the release — will have left the country by then, easing the pressure on the government; second, the more lengthy the trial, the likelihood of being forgotten looms.
Otherwise the inconsistency of the trial coupled with a judicial system considered an extension of the governing party makes the final outcome utterly unpredictable. Hoping for the best is all we can afford at this time for Abel Wabela, Atnaf Berhane, Befekadu Hailu and Natnael Feleke.
In one of his articles Temesgen discusses how the struggle of the Ethiopian opposition and other activists were reduced from raising political and civil liberty issues to merely demanding the release of opposition figures or imprisoned journalists. Ironic as it may seem, now the 37 years old is in the later’s shoes and rest assured others certainly will not stop demanding his release.
Temesgen Desalegn, publisher and editor of the now defunct Feteh and a couple of other newspapers, has been found guilty of articles that were published in his paper between July 2011 and March 2012.
The five-page charges for the most part interrelate to each other. On top of that, some of the charges listed negate the very essence of journalism. One of the charges states “with a view to change the mindset of the youth.” The whole point of writing is the fight for the hearts and minds of citizens; to contribute to making an informed debate and decision-making. Devoid of such ordinary logic, the charges evolve around incitement, mischaracterization of the government, manipulation and defamation.
Five articles written in that time frame were presented as evidence. After two years long deliberation, the Federal High Court found the defendant guilty as charged. On October 27,2014, he was sentenced to three years in prison.
Temesgen’s imprisonment was hardly unexpected. He was a vocal critic of the ruling party. As such he has been detained several times. He shared his prison stint with readers in various blogs he posted regularly.
Temesgen’s articles stand out as well thought, analytical and empirical. His knowledge of the country’s current affairs, with all its intricacies and complexities, is almost unparalleled. Even long after all his publications were shut down, Temesgen never missed an opportunity to pen his views and analysis on current affairs.
In an unusual tribute, a veteran economist and politician Bulcha Demeksa recently commended him as a knowledgeable, fearless journalist whose gut has inspired many a youth.
The popular Amharic weekly Feteh was shut down in July 2012 in a dramatic manner, the last publication was seized from the government-owned printing press. To add insult to injury, the printing house forfeited the money amounting to a little over $4,000.
Not to be completely outdone, the indefatigable chronicler of the country’s state of affairs had earlier managed to publish a collection of his articles in a book entitled Yemeles Amelko ( Worshipping Meles). The book was a huge success that it had to be reprinted a number of times.
For now Temesgen doesn’t seem to be that concerned about the sentence as he is adamant about his innocence. His lawyer Amha Mekonnen told VOA Amharic that they declined to present mitigating circumstances for that is tantamount to admitting guilt. So their next move is to appeal the court’s decision. As Temesgen’s favorite metaphor has it, his journey won’t stop until he gets to Golgotha! He is determined to relive that moment by challenging the judiciary where ever it takes him. Here’s to idealism.