Nairobi — Ethiopian authorities blocked the publication of a prominent independent newspaper over the weekend in connection with its stories on the health of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, according to local journalists.
The state-run printing company Barhanena Selam told the weekly Feteh on early Sunday morning that the government had ordered that week's edition of the paper, about 30,000 copies, to be blocked on grounds of inciting national insecurity and endangering the government and the public, local journalists said. The paper had prepared pieces citing reports from the BBC and the exiled opposition group, Ethiopian National Transitional Council, local journalists said. A government spokesman did not return CPJ calls seeking comment.
News accounts have reported that Meles has been hospitalized in Brussels with an undisclosed condition.
"The ban on Feteh's latest issue illustrates the depth of repression in Ethiopia today, and authorities' determination to suppress independent coverage of the prime minister," CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes said. "Every citizen has a right to be informed about the well-being of their leader and the conduct of their government. Authorities should reverse their decision and allow the publication of Feteh's weekend edition to proceed."
The printing company itself had initially balked at publishing the edition because of the stories, but finally agreed to do so if the paper cut its press run, according to news reports. Barhanena Selam said in April that it would refuse to print any material it believed would violate the country's 2009 anti-terrorism law, according to news reports. The legislation criminalizes independent reporting on opposition causes the government deems terrorist, and holds printers, as well as publishers, accountable for material that "promotes terrorism."
Feteh is one of a handful of independent newspapers still operating in Ethiopia and has one of the highest circulations, local journalists said. The paper and its staffers have been subjected to harassment in the past. Authorities have placed Feteh Chief Editor Temesghen Desalegn under surveillance and filed more than 30 legal cases against him since the paper's inception in 2008, Temesghen said. In May, an Ethiopian court sentenced Temesghen to a suspended four-month prison term on charges of contempt of the judiciary for publishing the verbatim courtroom statement made by imprisoned journalist Eskinder Nega during his trial, according to news reports. In the statement, Eskinder professed his innocence and questioned the independence of the court and the fairness of the proceedings.
A month earlier, state prosecutors filed a formal complaint against Feteh for "repeatedly publishing articles which put down the court's responsibility, disgrace its trust and undermine people's trust on the rule of law," local journalists said.