JOHANNESBURG – Ethiopian authorities have blocked the publication of a prominent independent newspaper featuring reports on the health of the country's long-time ruler, a press freedom advocacy group said Tuesday.
Some 30,000 copies of the independent weekly Feteh were blocked on grounds of "inciting national insecurity and endangering the government and the public," the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Speculation about Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's health abounded last week after he missed an important regional summit for the first time since he assumed office in 1991. He is rumored to be undergoing treatment abroad, but his government said he was merely resting a few days after experiencing exhaustion.
Feteh's stories on the leader's health were based on reports by the BBC and on comment from an exiled opposition group, the Ethiopian National Transitional Council.
The ban "illustrates the depth of repression in Ethiopia today, and authorities' determination to suppress independent coverage of the prime minister," the advocacy group said. An Ethiopian government spokesman did not return calls from the CPJ seeking comment on the banning, it added.
Since disputed elections led to violent protests in 2005, the government has blocked major news sites and blogs. Earlier this month, the CPJ reported that Ethiopia was extending and refining its censorship of internet news with a sophistication that could encourage other authoritarian regimes in Africa.
Earlier this month, Ethiopia's federal court sentenced prominent dissident blogger Eskinder Nega to 18 years in prison.
According to the CPJ, authorities have put Feteh's editor Temeseghen Desalegn under surveillance since the paper was launched in 2008 and filed more than 30 legal cases against him.