Gov't under fire for closing free press body

The Ethiopian government is facing mounting criticism over its controversial decision to close the country’s free press association.

Seven international press freedom organisations have called on the government to lift the indefinite suspension of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA).

“This is the first time in three years that the government has called EFJA’s registration into question,” a committee representing the press freedom associations said.

It expressed concern that the closure could be a pretext to penalise the organisation for criticising a controversial press law which is under review.

Organisations including the Inter American Press Association, the World Association of Newspapers and World Press Freedom Committee all backed the resolution.

The EFJA was suspended last month in a row over its out-of-date operating licence.

Under Ethiopian law, all organisations working within the country must be licensed and provide audit reports detailing financial records, which the EFJA has failed to do.

Kifle Mulat, head of the EFJA, accused the government of shutting them down for political reasons.

But the Ethiopian government has categorically denied the charge. It points to the 82 weekly and 32 monthly newspapers in the country, which it says, proves that freedom of expression is flourishing.

“The EFJA has been suspended because it has not abided by the rules," government spokesman Mekonnen Worke told IRIN. "We just want the law to be respected. Other organisations that have violated regulations have also been punished.”

He said the justice ministry – which imposed the suspension – is considering an appeal from the EFJA to lift the suspension.