Ethiopia | Locking up Feteh newspaper’s edition
An Ethiopian court approved on Thursday the government’s decision to block the distribution of Feteh newspaper’s last week issue.
The Amharic weekly usually reaches Addis Ababa’s streets on Friday morning.
However, that was not the case, last week. As the authorities ordered the printing house to seize tens thousands copies of Fetehe newspaper.
Apparently, the Ministry’s decision was based on Article 42(3) of Proclamation to Provide for the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information (Proc. 590/2008). The sub-article stipulates that:
‘’in case of extreme emergency, where it is not possible to obtain a court order in time to prevent the harm [a clear and present danger grave danger to the national security], the public prosecutor may order the periodical or the book to be impounded, provided that he shall notify a court of the order within 48 hours and the court shall determine within 24 hours whether or not the prosecutors order shall be upheld’’.
The Ministry of Justice, which exercises Federal prosecutorial powers, gave the impoundment order last Friday, according to the letter written to Feteh by the Printing House the next day.
The impoundment order was upheld by court this week on Tuesday.
It appears The 72 hours deadline prescribed by the proclamation was not observed or was counted from the date of the Printing House’s letter. But that may not be what worries at this time Feteh’s owner and chief-editor Temesgen Desalegne who just lost about 80,0000 Birr in the process.
The specific item deemed to pose a ‘clear and present grave danger’, thereby prompting the impoundment is not known to date. Yet, Temesgen claimed that the authorities demanded the removal a piece from the paper, but didn’t disclose its contents.
Earlier this week, it was suggested, partly based on hints from Temesgen on facebook, that the cause of the impoundment is an item related to the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s illness or alleged power struggles in the ruling party.
However, that assumption was challenged by others. As Temesgen claimed last week on Tuesday, on facebook, that the Prime Minister has returned home alive, it is unlikely that he would make write much different story just three days later. Any item regarding an alleged power-struggle would not have much effect on the ruling party’s internal dynamics as most of the officials have a deep distrust towards opposition media, which routinely insults them. That is, if they bother to read the private press, in the first place.
Another weightier hypothesis, however, is that the impounded edition of Feteh newspaper might have contained a sensationalized coverage of the detention of the leaders of Muslim protesters and their alleged mistreatments. An issue perhaps more concerning for the authorities than a speculation on the Premier or the ruling party.
Though Temsgen pledged, on Wednesday, to post on facebook, a letter stating the reasons for the impoundment that he expected to receive the next day. He didn’t to date. Apparently, he was advised against posting a copy of the decision of the court. As the decision would make quotations from the impounded edition, its public distribution could amount a subversion of the impoundment.
The afore-cited proclamation stipulates that, where an impoundment order is approved by court, the Prosecutor shall institute a criminal charge within two weeks. If the Prosecutors fails to do that the impoundment will be revoked the paper could be circulated. Bloomberg’s correspondent in Addis, William Davison, the only journalist following the case in the past week, reported on Thursday that:
Editors from the weekly Feteh newspaper may face criminal charges because of national security concerns, State Minister of Justice Berhanu Tsegaye said in a phone interview today. Last week, Ethiopian authorities seized 30,000 copies of the newspaper containing the stories about Meles and the protests, Hailemeskel Beshewamyelhu, a deputy editor, said July 24.
“The court has approved our decision,” Berhanu said of the Federal First Instance Court’s ruling. “We have not finalized the charges.” A decision is expected within five days, he said.
It is not improbable the authorities may drag their foots for a month (as the court can grant them additional two weeks for preparation) and abandon the matter. Though that would enable the dissemination of the impounded edition of Feteh, its contents would only be historical interest.
Feteh no more?
Media reports concerning the matter, this week, were few and short on the details. Nor is there a statement on the state-owned news outlets so far.
Thus, it was not clear whether the use of the word ‘ban’ was a misnomer or the authorities revoked Feteh’s licenses. It is also likely that the circumstances of the impounding and the financial loss could force the paper out of circulation.
Upon the writing of this article (on Thursday), it was learnt Temesgen was trying to have the next issue Fetehe on the market. However, it appears he faced temporary setbacks from the authorities who apparently thought they are done with him.
We will pay any scarifice for press freedom! Tomorrow Feteh won’t be on Ethiopian streets, as it used to. The cause is Berhane-na-Selam Printing House.
It went like this:- Today, in the morning, Feteh’s sale officers went to the Printing House to make payment for the edition that would be submitted for printing in the evening. However, they were told by the official of the Printing House that “the management has decided not to print Feteh newspaper anymore”. I and a colleague went to the printing house and demanded an explanation, the official replied saying “it is because the matter of the impounded edition is not resolved yet”. When I told them that is none of their concern, the official embarrassed himself and us by saying that “the Ministry gave us an oral order no to print Feteh”.
We went to the Ministry of Justice, but no official was willing to talk to us until 4 pm, each claiming the matter is not his mandate. At last, we went to the Minister’s office and vowed not to leave. Then, the State Minister was made to meet us. The State Minister told us, in a relaxed manner, that the impounding order was issued by me, but it doesn’t prohibit you from printing this week. We left the Ministry and went to Berhane-na-Selam Printing House. However, it was late and all officials had already left. Thus, Feteh won’t be printed tonight. We will repeat this tiresome routine tomorrow. If successful, Feteh will reach readers on Saturday. At any rate, me and my colleagues won’t give up by this. And, we will follow to the end the struggle we have begun, no matter the cost. May Ethiopia live forever! [Translation mine]
I couldn’t ascertain if Feteh went to print today as indicated above.
It should be noted that Feteh is among the newspapers with high-circulation and also highly critical of the government. Though ‘an opposition media’ would have been a befitting term for Feteh, CPJ routinely claims it is ‘the only independent newspaper’ in the country. (However, this week, for some reason, CPJ watered-down the claim referring to Feteh as ‘one of a handful of independent newspapers’).
The government is said to have ‘filed more than 30 legal cases against [Temesgen] since the paper’s inception in 2008’, according to statement by CPJ, citing Temesgen. It is not clear, however, if that figure is the number of complaints lodged at the Federal police against Feteh, for which Temegen would have had to give a reply, or the number of criminal charges instituted against him in a court.
Feteh’s editor Temesgen Desalegne is a 31 years old, graduate of Political Science from Addis Ababa University and author of ‘Ye Meles Ameleko’, a compilation of articles he published on the newspaper.
Read Temesgen’s Facebook notes on the matter below. (the latest is posted above.)
[Imperfect translations mine - use the links for the original]
Today is Friday, however, Fetehe was not able to reach readers. Of course, the salesman of the newspaper went to the Berhane-na-Selam Printing House yesterday and paid 80,385 Birr for the printing of 30,000 copies. Though Fetehe’s officer arrived for follow-up around mid-night, the paper couldn’t not be printed as an official of the Printing House claimed ‘we are instructed no to print Fetehe’.
Today, I, along few of my colleagues, went to the Printing House to inquire the reasons. The deputy Director of the Printing House, accompanied by other officials of the House, asked me to sit and discuss the matter. They indicated the removal of a news items from the news item as well as a disgraceful proposal that I would not disclose here. We argued citing the laws of the nation. The meeting ended without an agreement and with an appointment for 2:30 am that afternoon to be notified of the outcome of their discussion. While leaving the small meeting room of the Dep. Director, we saw higher officials of the Justice Ministry and a Prosecutor sitting nearby the door……
In the afternoon, we went to the dep. Director’s office and we were told permission was granted. Now, the newspaper is being printed and we expect it will be distributed tomorrow morning.
Breaking news: Fetehe newspaper banned from distribution
Fetehe newspaper was allowed to be printed yesterday, though initially suspended by the hardliner force that is prevailing in the power struggle following the Prime Minister’s illness. Though the printing process was completed by 8 pm yesterday, Fetehe couldn’t reach readers due to, I presume, the order of that force.
We were told the Printing House received a letter, signed by prosecutor Berhanu Wondemeagegnehu, that states “we decided to ban the paper as, we are informed, it contains an item detrimental to national security”.
As a result , thirty thousands copies of Fetehe is currently locked at the Berhane-na-Selam Printing House….What is this?……Are things getting worse? Is this a sign that the force climbing to power is worse? Anyways, we will see the matter to end and take our own measure. (See the letter sent to the newspaper from the printing house)
We do not agree with the Court’s decision!!!
Yesterday, the Court approved the ban on Fetehe newspaper as requested by the Prosecutor. We do not agree to this decision as conceding to it would be abandoning what our conscince tells us. I assure the Fetehe newspaper family that the position of the newspaper will not bow to this kind of intimidation. (As we are told to expect a letter stating the reasons for the ban tomorrow, I will post it here)
[updates regarding the cause of the impounding will be provided if and when made available]
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