10 July 2008
IFJ Calls for End to Media Repression in Ethiopia
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned recent press freedom violations in Ethiopia and called on the African Union, the United Nations and the international community to stop the Ethiopian government's repression of the media.
Last week the ruling party Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front led the passage in Parliament of a new law that allows the state prosecutor to censor the media to "protect national security," imposes heavy fines on media outlets that break the law and restricts access to information by the media and the public.
A day after the law was passed, Ethiopia's High Court issued an order to the federal police to collect fines from four publishing houses stemming from convictions related to the 2005 post-election riots. The government also blocked the issue of press licenses to some of the owners of these outlets.
"We are deeply disappointed by the serious press freedom violations committed by the Ethiopian government and the law passed by the Parliament," said Gabriel Baglo, the Director of IFJ Africa office. "We call on the African Union, the United Nations and the international community to put pressure on the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to stop the repression on the media."
On Tuesday July 2, Ethiopia's parliament passed the new media law, the Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation, which had been discussed since 2002. The law allows the state prosecutors to invoke national security as grounds for impounding materials prior to publication and distribution.
The IFJ believes the law should be abolished because of the draconian restrictions it puts on the press even though it does include some improvements from the media law passed in 1992, including the lifting of jail terms for journalists convicted of press offences and the right of journalists to create an independent professional organisation.
"We share the fear of local journalists that the good points of this law will not be respected by the government," said Gabriel Baglo. "We can easily doubt the good faith of a government which refuses to issue licenses to media owners who fulfill all the legal requirements."
Serkalem Fasil, journalist and owner of Serkalem Publishing, and other media owners were told last year by the Ministry of Information that they had fulfilled all legal requirements and are entitled to the licenses by law. Ten months later, however, they have not yet received their licenses. According to local sources, their file has been blocked by the Prime Minister office for unknown reason.
On 3 July the Federal High Court ordered Serkalem Publishing and three others, Sisay Publishing, Zekarias Publishing and Fasil Publishing, to pay fines ranging from 15,000 to 120,000 Birr (1,000 to 8,000 Euros) stemming from convictions related to the 2005 post-election riots. The decision said the police will collect the fines and the publishers will be summoned on January 2009 if they fail to pay by then.
For further information contact the IFJ: +221 33 842 01 43
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries