Ethiopia denies imprisoned journalist visitation rights, medical treatment

Local friends and relatives of journalist Temesghen Desalegn, who is serving a three-year jail term, said that Ethiopian prison authorities in Ziway Prison have denied him medical treatment and all prison visits.

A court in the capital, Addis Ababa, convicted Temesghen on October 27, 2014, on charges of defamation, incitement, and false publication in connection with a series of opinion pieces published in 2012 in the now-defunct Feteh (“Justice”) newsmagazine, according to a translated copy of the charge sheet in CPJ’s possession. Two of the articles discussed the peaceful struggle of Ethiopian youth movements for political change and two columns criticized alleged government efforts to suppress student protesters and ethnic minorities through violent means, according to the charge sheet.

Temesghen’s family and local journalists said authorities did not provide a reason for the denial of prison visits. Local journalists said they suspected it could be linked to an interview Temesghen’s mother, Fanaye Irdachew, did with the U.S.-backed Voice of America Amharic service last month.

Temesghen suffers from back pain and has been denied access to medical treatment, and he has lost hearing in his left ear, according to the VOA interview which was corroborated by local sources that visited Temesghen before the visitation ban. According to one source that visited him in prison in July, the back pain is so severe the journalist is unable to sit or sleep.

In February 2015, authorities denied Temesghen prison visits from his family and friends for over a month, according to a public letter by Irdachew. Authorities did not provide an explanation at the time, 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.

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.