Posted November 7, 2012 in News

Hampering Free Press Is Unconstitutional! & Respect the Rights of the Convicted!

Ethiopian Human right council

Date-September 5, 2012

Press Release
1. Recalling our previous Press Release (May 19, 2012) and Urgent Appeal (August
6, 2012) that called upon the concerned organs both national and international,
we have been trying to gather the efforts of all concerned and the Ethiopian
people to give a better and guaranteed protection to the right to freedom of
expression in Ethiopia. Once again HRCO reiterates the constitutional provision
Article 29 that provides “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression
without any interference. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and
impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in
writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice”.
For any person who has been observing the hurdles thrown against the
independent media in Ethiopia it is easy to confer that the free press exists in an
undpredictable environment where its life hangs on the caprice of government
authorities. It was three months ago that the Government owned Berhanena
Selam Printing Enterprise floated a draft contract for private publishers which if
made practical would entitle this enterprise with the power to deny its services to
any material it receives for printing if it deems is not legal. This is tantamount to
a power of censorship even though this draft contract is not yet fully operational
in the face of a lot of opposition from these private publishers, mostly
Then after, following the imprisonment of a newspaper editor and writer from
the Amharic newspaper Fitih, another newspaper called Finote Netsanet has been
expressing its concern that it is becoming difficult for it to get the services of the
Berehanena Selam Printing Enterprise (bearing in mind that government
enterprises are the only service provides for newspaper publishing in Ethiopia).
Commendable as it is that the Ministry of Justice has withdrawn the charges
made against the imprisoned editor who has been charged for his articles written
on Fitih, and set him free, these newspapers still face the blatant denials of service
by this printing enterprise.
Starting last week the two newspapers Fitih and Finote Ntsanet, both known for
their critical view on government policies and practices and their focus on
political matters have stopped their publication due to the refusal by the
enterprise. The officials from this enterprise have responded to our questions that

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HRCO stands for democracy, the rule of law and the respect of human rights
the management has decided not to accept requests by these two newspaper
publishers to prevent a future legal liability that would arise in cases of the
newspapers committing a crime through their publications. This is not a tenable
reason for an enterprise that is not jointly criminally liable for the legal offences
by the private publishers or the editors and it is inconceivable to take such a
stance speculating upon a crime that will materialize in the future. Even then,
there are no new legal developments that require such a drastic move to totally
deny printing for these newspapers that are among the few remaining symbols of
independent media that face frequent reprisals. This is happening while other
newspapers are allowed to get the service sending a clear message to the public
that the printing enterprise is being selective and deriding the constitutional
principle that holds the press shall entertain diverse opinions and the people
have the right of access to information of public interest.
This continuing repression against the media denies the public to exercise its
right to freely express its views upon public affairs in economic, political or other
social matters and its access to information of public interest as provided in the
FDRE constitution, Article 29/3/b/.
2. On August 22, 2012 the families of Mr. Zerihun Gebre Egziabher, a former
opposition party leader, who has been charged on September 5, 2011 for crimes
of terrorism and convicted for such on January 2012, have lodged a complaint to
HRCO alleging that Mr. Zerihun while serving his seventeen years sentence in
Kilinto prison, was severely beaten by the prison guards. In their witness given to
us depending on their knowledge of the situation of Zerihun while they visited
him at the prison they said he has told them that he was beaten by the guards
who alleged that he has shown a happy face over the news of the death of the late
prime minister of Ethiopia. Accordingly they said it was this malicious and crude
reason that led the guards to brutally beat Mr. Zerihun. Adding that during their
visit the family has tried to get answers from the prison officials but they said
that they were met with unashamed response from one of the guards saying that
“the site of Zerihun makes his blood boil”.
HRCO has made efforts to get first hand information and make an official
investigation of the situation by requesting a permit for a prison visit from the
Ministry of Federal Affairs Federal Prison Administration by its letter dated
August 23, 2012. But until today this office has not been able to give any form of
response positive or otherwise except giving us indefinite postponements. Hence
unable to come up with the full version of the situation by making a thorough
investigation of the matter, we have decided to call upon the government and
other concerned bodies to give the issue a serious attention and make the
necessary inquiry to make the persons responsible for such heinous crime
answerable and protect Mr. Zerihun Gebre Egziabher from further harm.