The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the world's largest journalists' organisation and the International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 115 countries, sharply protested the Ethiopian government's ban on the only independent journalists' and editors' organisation in the country, the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA).
According to reports, EFJA, a non-profit organisation representing the country's independent printed press, was suspended by the Justice Ministry on 10 November for failing to renew its annual licence for the past three years.
"It is blatantly clear that the government is trying to find any excuse to close down the country's only representative journalists' and editors group," said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. "EFJA has been taking the lead in the fight against a new repressive media law and it is now paying the price. The government must allow journalists and editors the right of free association and it must allow them to work without interference or harassment," he added.
In recent months EFJA has strongly criticised a harsh new press law due to come into effect by the end of 2003. The law provides for the jailing of 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.
Regarding the media law, Director of IPI, Johann P. Fritz said, "The media law is trying to impose a statutory code on journalists and editors with the threat of fines and imprisonment for those who fail to meet its requirements. In effect the new law will allow the government to control the independent media in Ethiopia. As both IPI and IFJ have said in the past the best way to improve the work of the media is through training and a voluntary press council if necessary."
The suspension of EFJA is not the first attempt by the Ethiopian government to hamper freedom of the press, or hinder the work of EFJA. We recall the IFJ - IPI joint mission to Ethiopia in 1997 concerning the legal status of EFJA, and that only in March 2000 was the organisation finally granted a permit to operate. Three years later, however, the government has finally found a reason to close down the organisation.
Bearing in mind the above, IFJ and IPI calls on the government to re-instate both EFJA and its Executive Committee, and to ensure that all licensing problems are quickly resolved. We also call on the government to rescind the media law and undertake such measures as are necessary to create a media environment that will allow journalists to work without fear of harassment or intimidation.
Further information: + 32 2 235 22 00
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries