A federal high court’s 24 December decision reversing a 13-month-old government ban on the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA) was hailed today by Reporters Without Borders as a "victory for the EFJA and a step forward for press freedom in Ethiopia."
But Reporters Without Borders warned that vigilance is still needed in Ethiopia as the situation of its news media continues to be very precarious.
"Journalists fear the imminent adoption of a law that will allow the authorities to throw them in prison ’just for making mistakes in their articles’ while the foreign press is closely monitored," the organisation said. "At the same time, Ethiopians still do not have access to independent television and radio," it added.
The federal high court ruling declared the justice ministry’s November 2003 ban on the EFJA to be "illegal," dissolved an organisation created by the ministry to replace the EFJA, and ordered the ministry to pay the EFJA’s legal costs. The court also annulled a system for electing the EFJA leadership that had been imposed by the ministry, with the result that only EFJA members can henceforth form the organisation’s governing body.
Government shuts down independent journalists’ association
Reporters Without Borders today condemned as intimidation the government’s closure of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA) following its strong criticism of a harsh new press law due to come into effect by the end of the year.
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.
"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 Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard, calling on prime minister Meles Zenawi to lift the ban at once, "stop harassing the independent media and respect the public’s right to media diversity."
EFJA President Kifle Mulat said journalists 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.
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. Mufat said the audit was under way.