8 February 2013

Ethiopia: Regulatory Body Censors Opposition Publication Again

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns a decision by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA), which regulates all the media, to withdraw the publication licence of the Addis Times, an opposition bimonthly magazine created after the authorities closed the outspoken weekly Fitih last August.

"The way the authorities are persecuting the Addis Times and its employees is indicative of the strength of the Ethiopian government's determination to restrict media freedom and silence its critics," Reporters Without Borders said.

"The grounds given by the EBA are not of the kind that justify such a severe measure as closure under Ethiopian law. This sanction must be lifted at once. We call on the authorities to put a stop to this harassment of the Addis Times and its journalists."

In a 10 January letter, the EBA accused the Addis Times of failing to report a change of owner and change of address, failing to send the two obligatory copies of each issue to the National Archives, and a lack of transparency in its funding. No evidence was provided to support these claims or the punishment imposed.

The magazine's director-general disputes the allegations and regards the punishment as illegal and unconstitutional.

Ethiopian law provides for a fine of up to 15,000 birr (600 euros) for contraventions of this kind but not for closure or withdrawal of a licence. The constitution meanwhile guarantees freedom of expression and media freedom.

The Addis Times was published for only four months before this sanction, while its predecessor, Fitih, was subjected to an avalanche of legal proceedings before being closed for good by the authorities last August.

Addis Times managing director Temesgen Desalegne is meanwhile facing many charges in connection with his journalistic work and is due to appear in court today. The charges, on which he was held for six days in August, include "dangerous disinformation," inciting unrest against the constitutional order and waging a smear government against the government.

Ethiopia has fallen 10 places to 137th out of 179 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Although the two Swedish journalists arrested in 2011 were released, Reporters Without Borders is still concerned about the continuing detention of several Ethiopian journalists and the draconian way the 2009 anti-terrorism law is implemented.

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