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Key Developments

» Meles' fatal illness is shrouded in secrecy, leaving nation, world in dark.

» Government wields terror law to prosecute, silence critical journalists.

The death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in August in a Belgian hospital brought an end to a 21-year rule characterized by repression of dissent and iron-fisted control of the independent press. His fatal illness was shrouded in secrecy. After Meles disappeared from public view in June, the government played down rumors of his illness and suppressed in-depth domestic reporting. The government also faced rare demonstrations by members of the Muslim community, who protested what they called government interference in their affairs. Security forces violently dispersed the gatherings, cracking down on journalists who reported on them, and forcing three Muslim-oriented newspapers to close. The government drew widespread international condemnation for the convictions of nine Ethiopian journalists on vague and politicized terrorism charges. The journalists, five of them exiles tried in absentia, were handed sentences ranging from eight years to life imprisonment. The government finally freed two Swedish journalists who were imprisoned for 14 months for reporting on separatist Ogaden rebels. Six journalists remained behind bars in late year, including award-winning writer Eskinder Nega.

  • 49

    Journalists in exile
  • 64

    Days of secrecy
  • 72

    Papers closed under Meles
  • 23

    Weeks Feteh censored
  • 8

    Years in prison

Government persecution has driven dozens of Ethiopian journalists into exile in recent years. Many flee to Kenya and Uganda to escape arrest and imprisonments.

Top countries from which journalists have fled, 2007-12:


Meles last appeared in public in a meeting with Chinese leaders at the G-20 Summit in Mexico in mid-June. For more than two months, the government treated his health and whereabouts as a state secret. When the government finally announced his death in August, no detail about the nature of his illness was given. International news reports, citing a hospital source, said he had died of liver cancer.

An illness shrouded in secrecy:

June 17:

Meles is seen meeting with Chinese leaders at the G-20 Summit in Mexico.

July 14:

Senegalese President Macky Sall announces that Meles will not attend the African Union Summit in Ethiopia for health reasons.

July 19:

Government spokesman Bereket Simon breaks the official silence over Meles' disappearance, declaring the prime minister "in good condition."

July 20:

Government invokes national security laws to block distribution of an edition of the weekly Feteh that reports a range of speculation about Meles' health.

July 25:

The Ethiopian newspaper The Reporter publishes the story, "Meles on vacation abroad."

August 21:

The government announces Meles' death.

More than 70 newspapers were forced to close because of government pressure during the 21 years of Meles' rule, according to CPJ research.

Meles' press freedom record, by the numbers:


Independent TV stations allowed under Meles


Independent broadcaster allowed under Meles


Times that veteran journalist Eskinder Nega was imprisoned


Newspapers forced to shut in 2012

The state-run printing company halted production of Feteh beginning in July, after the paper tried to distribute an issue carrying front-page coverage of Meles' illness.

Persecution of Feteh:


Copies carrying coverage of Meles' health that were confiscated in July.


Months' suspended prison term for Feteh Editor Temesghen Desalegn on charges of contempt for publishing a statement read by Eskinder Nega during his terrorism trial.


Days' imprisonment for Temesghen after he was handed four counts of anti-state charges for old articles critical of Meles. The charges were pending by year's end.


Years in prison for Feteh columnist Reeyot Alemu after her conviction on trumped-up terrorism charges in January. An appeals court later reduced the sentence to five years after dropping most of the terrorism charges.

In May, parliament passed a bill purporting to "prevent and control telecom fraud." But the bill included vague provisions that impose an eight-year prison penalty for dissemination of messages deemed "terrorizing."

Other penalties in the bill:


Years' imprisonment for "obstructing or interfering" with the state-run telecom network. The provision could apply to methods used by journalists to circumvent official surveillance and filtering.


Years of imprisonment for importing, selling, or using telecommunication equipment without government authorization.

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