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Network of African Free Expression Organisations urges president to restore press freedom

(MFWA/IFEX) - The following letter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been forwarded by MFWA on behalf of the Network of African Free Expression Organisations:

Network of African Free Expression Organisations (NAFEO)

His Excellency Meles Zenawi
Prime Minister of Ethiopia
Office of the Prime Minister
P O Box 1031
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

24th November 2005

Your Excellency,

Ethiopian Elections: Free Media Crucial to Social and Economic Development on Democratic Basis

We are writing to express our serious concern with regard to recent developments in Ethiopia as they affect both the media as a whole, and individual journalists.

Following the elections in Ethiopia in May and August this year, we, the undersigned have become increasingly concerned with the crackdown on the media involving reports of journalists being declared wanted, arrested and detained, closure of media houses, cancellation of media licences, and alarming reports that journalists will be charged with political offences including treason. We are even more dismayed at reports of family members being arrested in lieu of journalists and apparently being held hostage.

We believe very strongly that regardless of any controversy, or incidents that have arisen over the outcome of the 2005 elections in Ethiopia, journalists should not be targeted or held responsible for events that they have covered as part of their legitimate journalistic work. It is a universally accepted principle of democracy that the media should be free to report on events and developments in society without fear of persecution, or restrictions. Even where there are any legitimate restrictions, they should be in accordance with accepted international and African law and standards and not incompatible with democratic principles.

Targeting journalists for reporting events that have happened, or for reporting reactions to events does not prevent those events from happening. On the contrary, curtailment of media freedom and freedom of expression magnifies tension and increases the national and international perceptions that either democracy is weak in a country, or that the government is unable to accept differences of opinion, critical or independent reporting and believes it necessary to punish the exercise of these freedoms as offences.

We also believe very strongly that even where it can be proven that a media house or journalist may have strayed from universally acknowledged ethics of journalism, there are more appropriate civil and legal ways of resolving any such case, which do not undermine principles of democratic governance. We urge your government to explore these alternatives. In all such cases, we also urge your government to guarantee a prompt and fair legal process in which the procedural rights, human rights and fundamental freedoms of any affected persons are upheld and guaranteed at all times.

With reference to the aforementioned international and African standards, we implore you to consider that the arrest and detention of journalists, and seizing of family members in particular, undermine the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which Ethiopia ratified in 1998, in particular Article 4, which states that "every human being shall be entitled to respect for his [or her] life and integrity of his [or her] person", and Article 6 which explicitly guarantees that "every person shall have the right to liberty and security of person" and "in particular, no one may be arbitrarily arrested and detained".

The specific targeting of the media and individual journalists also undermines the spirit and content of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa specifically, Article 1 which states that "freedom of expression and information, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas is a fundamental and inalienable human right and an indispensable component of democracy", and Article 2, which states, "No one shall be subject to arbitrary interference with his or her freedom of expression."

As host country to the African Union headquarters, we further urge you to consider that the actions of your government are not without enormous implications for the credibility and future of the AU, an institution in which tens of millions of Africans have invested hopes of a greater future.

The implications for the African Union and Africa in general, of sweeping arrest and detention of citizens and a crack down on the media in Ethiopia would be comparable to implications of a similar action by, for instance, the government of Belgium [which hosts the European Union in Brussels] on the credibility and future of the EU. The African Union already faces significant challenges and we would rather that the government of Ethiopia be on record as strengthening rather than weakening the moral leadership of the AU and its Executive Commission based in Addis Ababa.

As Africans with a vested interest in the accelerated social and economic development of our continent on a democratic basis, we the undersigned implore your government to consider that Africa will be poorer without a credible AU.

We urge your government to strongly consider the issues raised in our correspondence and to, without delay, release detained families of journalists, release arrested journalists, drop the political charges against them, and allow media houses and individual journalists to operate freely.

No country is without its difficulties and Ethiopia has had its fair share in its 3000-year history. In its times of difficulty, the African and indeed international media have stood by the people and governments of Ethiopia. This demonstrates without any doubt that our commitment to the development of Ethiopia on a democratic basis is even-handed. We also believe strongly that upholding democratic rights and principles for all citizens as included in Article 2 of the African Charter ["every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed in the charter without distinction of any kind such as political or any opinion"] - will strengthen rather than weaken Ethiopia.

Sincerely Yours,


1. Donat M'baya Tshimanga, Journaliste en Danger (JED, Kinshasa)
2. Kwame Karikari, Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA, Accra)
3. Luckson Alfred Chipare, Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA, Windhoek)
4. Edetaen Ojo, Media Rights Agenda (MRA, Lagos)
5. Rashweat Mukundu, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA, Harare)
6. Sam Mbure, Africa Free Media Foundation (AFMF, Nairobi)
7. Jacob J. Akol, Association for Media Development in Southern Sudan (AMDSS)
8. Sihem Ben Sedrine, National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (CNLT, Tunis)
9. Kifle Mulat, Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA, Addis Ababa)
10. Amie Joof- Colé, Inter-Africa Network for Women, Media, Gender Equity & Development (FAMEDEV, Dakar)
11. Jane Duncan, Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI, Johannesburg)
12. Cyprien Ndikumana, Organisation des Medias d'Afrique Centrale (OMAC, Bujumbura)
13. Diana Senghor, Panos Institute West Africa (PIWA, Dakar)
14. Nurto Sheikh Mohamed, Somali Coalition for Free Expression (SCFE, Mogadishu)
15. Mathatha Tsedu, The All Africa Editors Forum (TAEF, Johannesburg)
16. Ibrahim Famakan Coulibaly, West Africa Journalists Association/Union des journalistes de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (WAJA/UJAO, Bamako)
17. Rotimi Sankore, Centre for Research Education & Development of FOX & Association Rights (CREDO, London)
18. Fatou Jagne-Senghore, ARTICLE 19 Africa Office: Global Campaign for Free Expression
19. Gabriel Ayite Baglo, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ Africa Office)

Media Foundation for West Africa

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