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Ethiopia: Prime Minister’s Health is a Matter of National Debate

24 July 2012

ARTICLE 19 is concerned about the Ethiopian government’s move to gag discussions on the health of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi including blocking publication of such stories in the weekly newspaper Feteh.

“The question now is no longer about one person but it is rather about the seat of power that he occupies. The health of the Prime Minister should be a matter of public debate by all including the media. There is an information vacuum in Ethiopia, which is a dangerous situation and the government must be honest about the exact status of the Prime Minister’s health.” said Henry Maina ARTICLE 19 Director for Eastern Africa.

According to reports, the state-run printing company Barhanena Selam (Light and Peace) refused to print the weekly newspaper Feteh on grounds that its stories touching on the health of Prime Minister Zenawi endangered the government and the public. The printing company also said the stories were a threat to national security. Nevertheless, the internet has been filled with stories of his ill health especially after he skipped the African Union Heads of Summit held in Addis Ababa on 15 July, the first time he has done so since he assumed office in 1991.

The gagging order on Feteh newspaper comes two months after the state-owned printing company issued a directive to publishers warning them to self-censor any content that may violate Proclamation 652/2009 in order to avoid prosecution. The directive allows the publisher to terminate any contract if a publication repeatedly breaches counter-terrorism rules.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the government to review this Proclamation since giving a printing press powers to determine the legality of publications is likely to have a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression in the country. The review should allow independent publishers to run their own establishments without interference from the government. It also calls upon the government to stop intimidating journalists and human rights defenders in Ethiopia and provide them an enabling environment to operate in accordance with its obligations under international law including upholding the rights to freedom of expression.

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