By Gwladys Fouche and Giulia Paravicini
OSLO/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will not talk to the news media when he is in Oslo next week to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, drawing rare criticism from the award committee, which says a free and independent press is vital.
The Ethiopian leader won the prize in October for his peacemaking efforts which ended two decades of hostility with longtime enemy Eritrea.
Nobel Peace Prize laureates traditionally hold a news conference a day before the official ceremony on Dec. 10. But Abiy has told the Norwegian Nobel Committee he will not do so.
Neither will Abiy take questions from reporters after his meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, nor will he participate at an event with children celebrating peace held every year at the Nobel Peace Centre, a museum.
That drew rare criticism from the secretive award committee, composed of Norwegian politicians and academics, which tends to refrain from commenting on past laureates.
Asked whether it was problematic that Abiy was not holding a news conference, Olav Njoelstad, Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, said: “Yes, we would very much have wanted him to engage with the press during his stay in Oslo.”
“We strongly believe that freedom of expression and a free and independent press are vital components of peace,” he told Reuters.
“Moreover, some former Nobel Peace Prize laureates have received the prize in recognition of their efforts in favour of these very rights and freedoms,” said Njoelstad.
He added that the committee’s position had been made “very clear to the Prime Minister and his staff”.
Nobel Peace Prize laureates who have attended the ceremony but not given a news conference include U.S. President Barack Obama, when he received the award in 2009.
Abiy will still meet Prime Minister Erna Solberg, as well as King Harald V, and visit the Norwegian Parliament.
He will also deliver the Nobel lecture at Oslo City Hall on Dec. 10, the day of the ceremony and the anniversary of the death of the Nobel Prizes founder, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel.
Abiy’s spokeswoman said the PM had to make priorities given the “extensive programme” and his responsibilities back home.
“It is quite challenging for a sitting Head of State to dedicate that many days, particularly where domestic issues are pressing and warrant attention,” Billene Seyoum told Reuters.
“Therefore, the Prime Minister will be attending essential and prioritised programs, agreed upon in consultation with the Nobel Institute, to honour and respect the Nobel tradition.”
“At a personal level, the humble disposition of the Prime Minister rooted in our cultural context is not in alignment with the very public nature of the Nobel award,” she added.
(Graphic of Nobel laureates: https://graphics.reuters.com/NOBEL-PRIZE/010050ZC27H/index.html)
(Editing by William Maclean)