Court upholds newspaper ban on 'national security' grounds |
IPI Condemns Pre-Publication Censorship as Latest Tool to Suppress Dissent
By Molly Ochs, IPI Staff | July 26, 2012
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 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, Johann 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.
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