Ethiopia Says It Impounds Newspaper on National Security Grounds

By William Davison

July 24 (Bloomberg) — Ethiopia’s government blocked the distribution of a newspaper that featured front-page news about Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s health and Muslim protests for national security reasons, Justice Minister Berhanu Hailu said.

Authorities impounded last week’s edition of the Feteh newspaper after prosecutors invoked a 2008 law that permits them to seize a publication that may present a “clear and present grave danger to the national security,” according to the Ethiopian Law Network website.

“It’s under investigation,” Berhanu said today in a phone interview from the capital, Addis Ababa. “It’s based on unfounded facts.”

Ethiopia’s government has been criticized by the U.S. and United Nations, for using restrictive laws including counterterrorism legislation to stifle dissenting politicians, journalists and others.

Meles is recovering from an unspecified illness and will be back in a “few days,” the government said July 19. Opposition groups including the U.S.-based Ethiopian National Transitional Council have said he’s seriously ill and may have died, without saying how they got the information.

Addis-based Feteh is awaiting a Federal High Court ruling deciding if the edition will be barred from distribution under Article 42 of the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information  Proclamation, deputy editor Hailemeskel Beshewamyelhu said today by telephone.

“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,” Tom Rhodes, the Committee to Protect Journalist’s consultant for East Africa, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.

– William Davison can be reached at wdavison10@gmail.com