- The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA) has received a letter from the Justice Ministry, announcing that the organisation is suspended, because of failure to comply with audit and licensing requirements. The Ministry insists the suspension "is not political."
The EFJA, which represents the independent written press in the absence of any privately-owned radio or TV, was suspended by the justice ministry on 10 November for not renewing its annual licence for the past three years.
EFJA president, Kifle Mulat, however maintains that the media organisation was indeed being targeted for political reasons. Mr Mulat added that Ethiopian journalists currently were "fighting this draconian press law and the government does not like that."
The law includes prison terms for journalists who make reporting errors, allows the government to confiscate foreign newspapers entering the country and gives the authorities 30 days to answer journalists' questions.
Government officials strongly deny there are political reasons for closing down EFJA, which simply had not complied with the law. Ethiopian law requires non-profit associations to renew their licence to operate each year and submit an audit of their annual budget to the authorities.
Ministry official Gonfa said the suspension would be lifted when the EFJA complied with these rules. The Justice Ministry letter had ordered EFJA to stop all work except for "activity to audit the finance of the association." Mr Mulat said the audit was now under way.
The Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) reacted strongly to the suspension of EFJA. "The coincidence between the EFJA's criticism of this repressive law and the insistence by Ministry official Getachew Gonfa that the suspension is not political is just too much to be believed," said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard
RSF was calling on Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to lift the ban at once, "stop harassing the independent media and respect the public's right to media diversity." The US-based media watchdogs, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), however was more careful in its criticism. It said it was to "continue to monitor developments."
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