Gov't urged to "stop harassing" private press

The government has been urged to “stop harassing” the country’s private media after suspending Ethiopia’s independent journalist association.

Robert Ménard, secretary general of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, also called on the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to lift the suspension.

The government suspended the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA) on 10 November because its operating licence was three years out of date.

But Kifle Mulat, who heads the 155-strong organisation that was set up in 1993, claimed that they were shut down for political reasons.

He says the EFJA had been suspended for its widespread criticism of a new controversial draft press law being introduced by the government.

“The coincidence between the EFJA’s criticism of this repressive law and the insistence…that the suspension is not political is just too much to be believed,” Ménard added.

Relations between the EFJA and the government are extremely poor, according to analysts, who cite repeated attacks by both sides.

In a recent meeting between the government and the EFJA, Information Minister Bereket Simon accused the organisation of “undermining” responsible journalism in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian law requires non-governmental organisations to renew their licence to operate each year and submit an audit of their annual budget to the authorities.

Government spokesman Zemedkun Tekle told IRIN the suspension would be lifted after the EFJA provides independent audit reports detailing financial records in accordance with Ethiopian law.

“We have simply asked an association to abide by the rules,” he said.

Zemedkun also urged Reporters Without Borders to contact the government to “establish the facts” rather than criticise them.