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Voice of America journalist freed in Ethiopia

From Ben Brumfield, CNN
May 26, 2012 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Peter Heinlein says he is out of jail and is doing okay
  • Heinlein was trying to interview Muslim protesters in Addis Ababa, VOA says
  • He is now free and no charges have been brought against him, an Ethiopian minister says
  • VOA has urged the Ethiopian authorities to allow Heinlein to do his job as a journalist

(CNN) -- A Voice of America reporter detained while trying to cover a protest by Muslims has been freed, an Ethiopian government minister said Saturday.

Peter Heinlein is out of prison and does not face charges, Berket Simon, Minister of Government Communications, said.

In a phone interview, Heinlein confirmed to CNN that he was no longer being detained.

"I am free from jail," he said, sounding shaken. "I got out of jail."

Asked about his condition, he said: "The short answer is, yeah, I'm okay."

In an online story, Voice of America quoted witnesses as saying that Heinlein was detained while attempting to interview Muslim protesters after Friday prayers in the East African nation's capital, Addis Ababa.

In a formal statement from its headquarters in Washington, VOA said, "The safety and welfare of our reporters is our utmost concern and we are working to gather more information about Mr. Heinlein's status."

VOA said it had asked the U.S. Department of State for more information and was urging "Ethiopian authorities to allow Mr. Heinlein to carry out his journalistic responsibilities without interference."

VOA quotes Tom Rhodes, East Africa spokesman for the Committee to Protect Journalists as saying he understood that Heinlein was accused of acting "unprofessionally and illegally."

Rhodes told VOA a government spokesman had accused Heinlein, who is married to a Danish diplomat, of improperly using a diplomatic vehicle and refusing to show media accreditation.

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