Reporters Without Borders condemns the climate of fear to which Ethiopia’s independent media are currently exposed. The Addis Ababa-based weekly Addis Neger suspended publication today after several of its editors fled the country in the past few days because they were afraid they would be arrested.
“The spectre of the 2005 crackdown on the opposition and on the independent press is resurfacing in the run-up to the May 2010 general elections,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We condemn the fact that a weekly has been forced to close because of a smear campaign and because its staff was gripped by fear. We hope the government’s assurances will allow it to resume publishing soon.”
The press freedom organisation added: “During 2010, a politically sensitive year, we will closely monitor the degree of freedom available to the media and whether journalists are able to work without being subject to intimidation and fear.”
An Amharic-language weekly known for being outspoken and critical of the government, Addis Neger announced today that its latest issue (28 November) would be last one until further notice. The management said it had been forced to take this decision because of the government’s intention – confirmed by various sources – to prosecute the newspaper and its staff under an anti-terrorism law that was adopted last summer.
The pro-government newspaper Addis Zemen has meanwhile been virulent in its criticism of Addis Neger in a series of articles in recent weeks while the state television station ETV has been preparing a programme attacking the weekly.
“Our newspaper was one of the country’s best examples of what independent journalists (…) can accomplish,” Addis Neger managing editor Mesfin Negash said in press release obtained by Reporters Without Borders. Unfortunately, the government “made our task impossible,” he added. Communication minister and government spokesman Bereket Simon meanwhile denied that the authorities had any intention of targeting the newspaper.
Reporters Without Borders wrote to the minister on 15 July voicing concern about the new anti-terrorism law and the press freedom violations it was liable to spawn, and asking him to ensure that journalists, especially opposition ones, would not be the victims of any misuse of this law.
During a visit to Ethiopia in October 2008, Reporters Without Borders met Simon, who was then an adviser to the prime minister. He said at the time that the government wanted to open up to the media and defuse tension with journalists.