Save the Free Press Protect Freedom of Expression! |
HRCO | August 9, 2012
HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Date August 6, 2012
Save the Free Press Protect Freedom of Expression!
It is axiomatic that free press is a quintessential element in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression where the society strengthens its deserved active role to voice its concerns in the manner of government, justice and the rule of law. The Ethiopian free press since the coming to power of the incumbent, EPRDF, has gone through the vicissitudes of good and bad days where from the early days of exercising its authority the government has allowed a wider space of freedom to the mass media.
The current milieu of exercising freedom of expression in Ethiopia is next to none since many prominent journalists have fled the country for fear of imprisonment and prosecution and very few newspapers survive to properly function. Newspapers as a sole life line of independent media, because of the government’s control of other electronic media, seem to be the target of this systematic reprisal against the free press. To be more precise the recent prosecution over charges of terrorism has ended in the conviction of a number of practicing journalists known for their critical view of government policies and practices. And a still recent move by government printing agencies, which at present are the only service providers for newspaper publishing, by coming up with a new form of contract named “Standard Contract for Printing” entitles these publishers to conduct a form of censorship giving them the authority to reject requests for publishing if they deem the contents of the material submitted for publishing contains illegal matters.
At the moment a widely read and popular newspaper called ‘Fitih’ (Justice) has been proscribed by the ministry of justice from publishing its weekly issue for July 20/2012. Even though the said proclamation authorizes the Ministry of Justice to impound printed materials or periodicals that it believes pose danger to national security, the newspaper was actually denied printing service by the government owned Berhanena Selam Printing Enterprise for an alleged news item they believed contained criminal matters. This is a clear case of censorship by an unauthorized body. Even then the legally authorized body for impounding, the Ministry of Justice, wrote an injunction order to the printing enterprise on July 20/2012, before the newspaper was actually ready for publication which is against Article 42(9) of proclamation 590/2008 that provides “an impoundment of a periodical or a book shall relate only to copies intended for dissemination”. This HRCO stands for democracy, the rule of law and the respect of human rights impounding letter was issued a day before the newspaper went to printing which only happened the next day July 21/2012.
While this impoundment was awaiting a court approval the newspaper was denied publishing by the government printing enterprise for its next issues the following weeks July 27/2012 and August 3/2012 with no legal ground at all. Another newspaper Finote Netsanet is now expressing its concerns of denial by the same printing agency citing a refusal by the later giving technical reasons for its failure to print. The newspaper has said it only succeeded in printing its last issue through negotiating with the officials of the printing agencies. This direct and indirect pressure upon the few remaining symbols of free press, if allowed to continue undeterred, will be another dark chapter for freedom of expression in Ethiopia.
Hence, HRCO urgently calls upon all national governmental and non-governmental organizations and international organizations that have the responsibility to protect and promote human rights to come to the rescue and save the free press. At the moment freedom of expression languishes under severe persecutions upon the practitioners of journalism frequently prosecuted by the government for terrorism and other institutional blunder. A vivid example is the current practice of censorship and undue restriction upon the print media particularly on the weekly newspaper called ’Fitih’.
Please call upon and urge the following government bodies to fulfill and respect their duties of protecting the constitutional and international rights of citizens to enjoy their freedom of expression and bring an end to the above mentioned human right violations.
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