UPDATE: Ethiopian Weekly Blocked for Second Time
IPI:“Ethiopians Have the Right to Receive Information and Ideas Through Any Media”
VIENNA, July 30, 2012 – For the second week in a row, the opposition newspaper Feteh was prevented from being printed and distributed, according to a local news report.
Temesgen Desalegn, chief editor of Feteh newspaper, was quoted by The Reporter as saying: “It is nothing but an intention to kick us out of the publication business.”
The state-owned printing company Berhanena Selam Printing Enterprise declined to print the newspaper without permission from the Justice Ministry, according to The Reporter. In April, the company drew up a new agreement with publishers in which it reserved the right to refuse publication of anything that could be perceived as “illegal” – and the state has shown that criticism of the government could be deemed illegal under a 2009 anti-terror law, which has so far been used to jail five journalists.
As IPI documented last week (see below), the extremely critical paper was first blocked from publication on July 20 at the request of the Ministry of Justice. The weekly planned to have articles about the prime minister’s reportedly failing health and about protests in the capital on the front page.
“The second round of censorship against Feteh newspaper is yet another blow to press freedom, and is a violation of the right of Ethiopians to receive information and ideas through any media,” said IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie.
Ethiopian Court Upholds Newspaper Ban On ‘National Security’ Grounds
IPI Condemns Pre-Publication Censorship as Latest Tool to Suppress Dissent
By Molly Ochs, IPI Staff
VIENNA, July 26, 2012 – The Federal High Court in Ethiopia yesterday upheld a ban on last week’s edition of Feteh newspaper, according to news reports and journalists.
The court said the ban met the criteria set out in Article 42 of Ethiopia’s 2008 Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation, which allows prosecutors to seize any publication that may present a “clear and present grave danger to the national security,” reports said.
“The eradication of very critical media in Ethiopia appears to be nearly complete,” said IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. “Publications have been forced to close, and journalists have fled the country while their colleagues are condemned to years in prison. Pre-publication censorship now rounds out the tools the Ethiopian government uses to control the press.”
Local journalists told IPI that Berhanena Selam Printing Enterprise (BSPE) initially printed last week’s edition of Feteh, but later declined to distribute it at the behest of the Ministry of Justice, which indicated that it was concerned about “sensitive” stories. The edition contained front-page articles about Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s allegedly deteriorating health and about protests by Muslims in the capital, Addis Ababa, Bloomberg News reported.
Editors at Feteh may face criminal charges for breaching national security, according to the same report. Sources in Ethiopia told IPI that no official charges or arrests have been made thus far. Officials had not responded to IPI’s requests for comment one day after they were contacted.
Under Ethiopia’s media law, printing houses and publishers may be held responsible for any information they distribute. Given its potential liability, in April the Berhanena printing house forced publications to sign a contract that gives the printing company the authority to refuse publication or censor content that could be deemed “illegal,” sources in Ethiopia told IPI. The printer is state-owned and is the only one that can handle such large-scale jobs, journalists said.
Journalists in Ethiopia operate in a highly restrictive media environment. Over the past year, IPI has tracked several abuses committed by prosecutors, who have used anti-terrorism laws to silence journalists and political opposition leaders.
Earlier this month, journalist and writer Eskinder Nega was given an 18-year sentence for “participation in a terrorist organization”. Five other journalists who have fled the country were tried in absentia and were also convicted.
Four other journalists – Reyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye – are also serving years-long prison terms for their supposed support of terrorism.
Last week’s ban was not the first time the authorities have targeted Feteh and the journalists who work at the newspaper.
In May, a court found Temesgen Desalegn, the chief editor of Feteh, guilty of biased reporting about the court and prosecution in reports on the case of Nega and other journalists who were accused and subsequently convicted of terrorism. Desalegn chose to pay a fine of 2000 birr (approx. €88), to avoid a prison sentence. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Desalegn was put under surveillance after the paper began operations in 2008 and 30 legal cases have been filed against him.