In Ethiopia, new printing directive equals pre-censorship

In late April, the state-owned Barhanena Selam (Light
and Peace) Printing Company, which is used by most local newspaper publishers,
issued a directive saying it would refuse to print any material it believes
would breach Ethiopia’s 2009
anti-terrorism law
, according to the same sources. The legislation criminalizes
independent reporting on opposition groups or causes that the government deems
terrorist and holds printers, as well as publishers, accountable for material
that “promotes terrorism.” The directive, a copy of which CPJ obtained, allows
Barhanena Selam the right to cancel any printing contract if the publisher
repeatedly submits content the printer considers legally objectionable. (An
English translation of the Amharic directive can be read here).

Barhanena Selam said it would require all newspaper
publishers to agree to the new terms before further publications would be
printed. Local journalists said there haven’t yet been interruptions to printing
even though not all newspapers have signed.

“This directive, coming from a state-owned company, is an
effort to codify pre-publication censorship under the repressive terms of
Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law, which the United Nations has criticized for its
excessive scope,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “This directive
must be rescinded immediately.”

Thirteen publishers have jointly protested the directive,
claiming it contravenes Article 29 of Ethiopia’s Constitution and the Freedom
of the Mass Media and Access to Information law, which both prohibit
censorship, the editor of the weekly Reporter,
Amare Aregawi, told CPJ. The
publishers also drafted a letter to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, he said.

The publishers question the ability of the printing company
to determine what may be illegal, Addis Fortune Managing Editor
Tamerat Giorgis told CPJ. The printing company declined a meeting, but the
publishers still hope to meet and negotiate with the company soon, according to
local
reports
.

The publishers questioned government spokesman Shimeles
Kemal at a function for World
Press Freedom Day
in the capital Thursday over the directive, according to
a local
news report
. Although the printing company is state-owned, he claimed the issue
is a private one between businesses, the same report said.

Ethiopia is the second leading jailer of journalists in
Africa, with seven journalists imprisoned on terrorism-related charges,
according to CPJ
research. The verdict
of critical blogger and 2012 PEN America press
freedom award
winner, Eskinder
Nega
, is expected Friday. He could face the death penalty if convicted.


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