Ethiopia jails editor whose paper challenged Zenawi

New York, February 1, 2010—An Ethiopian judge sentenced a journalist to prison on Friday in connection with a January 2008 column that criticized Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s statements about religious affairs in Ethiopia, according to local journalists.

Federal High Court Judge Mohammed Omar sentenced Editor Ezedin Mohamed of the Muslim-oriented newspaper Al-Quds to one year in prison. The precise charges were not immediately available but were related to a January 30, 2008, column that came in response to Zenawi’s interview with The Guardian of London that month, according to CPJ sources.

The Al-Quds column challenged Zenawi’s characterization of his country as “Orthodox Christian Ethiopia,” one source said. Mohamed has begun serving his sentence at Kality Prison outside the capital, Addis Ababa, sources said.

“The jailing of Ezedin Mohamed is another example of Ethiopia’s intolerance of independent and critical voices,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “It is high time for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to demonstrate his commitment to democratic values by ending the practice of imprisoning journalists.”

Mohamed is the fifth journalist imprisoned in Ethiopia, which is the second worst jailer of journalists in Africa, according to CPJ research. Only Eritrea jails more.