- Fourteen international press freedom organisations have signed a joint letter in defence of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA), condemning what they call the Ethiopian government's "campaign to silence" the organisation.
Initiated by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI), the letter calls on the Ethiopian government to "end its attacks on EFJA," which according to the organisations include "moves to replace the group's executive board with new members."
On 2 December 2003, Addis Ababa authorities suspended four EFJA board members, including President Kifle Mulat, on the grounds that the organisation had failed to submit audit reports since 2000. Ethiopian law requires all non-governmental organisations to register with the Justice Ministry and to submit audit reports of their records.
In a letter to EFJA, the government warned of disciplinary action if the suspended board members were found engaging in EFJA-associated activities.
IFJ in a press release says the Ethiopian government's action is "aimed at ensuring that the country's independent media no longer has a distinctive voice." EFJA has been particularly critical of a controversial press law that is due to be passed.
In an analysis of the draft legislation, IPI describes it as a "severe and unnecessary restriction on the right of journalists to practice their profession." Clauses which support the media are vastly outnumbered by poorly defined clauses that allow for penalties against the media. These include costly administrative fees, unnecessary registration and licensing obligations, and harsh fines, IPI says.
The press organisations do not elaborate on why EFJA had failed to submit audit reports since 2000. Nevertheless, they give the suspended EFJA board members their full support.
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