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Ethiopia Bans Newspaper After Stories On Meles Illness, Protests

By William Davison

An Ethiopian court banned distribution of a newspaper that published front-page articles about Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s health and protests by Muslims in the capital, Addis Ababa, the government said.

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.

Ethiopia’s government has been criticized by the U.S. and the United Nations for using laws including counter-terrorism legislation to stifle critics including politicians and journalists. The court’s decision was made under Article 42 of the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation that allows distribution to be blocked if it presents “a clear and present grave danger to the national security,” according to the UN refugee agency’s website.

“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 July 23.

Meles has taken a leave of absence from his official duties to recover from an unspecified illness after he failed to attend the African Union summit earlier this month, the government said on July 19. Anti-government groups including the U.S.-based Ethiopian National Transitional Council have said he’s seriously ill.

Ethiopian police on July 20 arrested an unspecified number of Islamic leaders involved in protests in Addis Ababa. Muslims, who make up 34 percent of the country’s population according to the CIA World Factbook, have been protesting for eight months at mosques about alleged government interference in elections of Islamic leaders.

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