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Marking its 16th anniversary, EFJA denounces dismal conditions for press freedom

(EFJA/IFEX) - The following is a 10 March 2008 EFJA press release:

EFJA at 16th Anniversary: Breaking the Dead Silence!

March 10, 2008

EFJA's Anniversary Message

With almost all of its heroic journalists currently living in exile in the four corners of the globe, the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA) is again obliged to mark its Anniversary in the wilderness!

EFJA is today 16 years old! We therefore raise our voice louder to congratulate all our members at home and in exile for their fortitude and forbearance in the face of the state-instigated, ceaseless harassment and persecution that has persisted during the last decade and half!

EFJA's role of guiding and coordinating the tasks of the free press journalists in Ethiopia has already been brought to an absolute standstill! The free press, which is the most vibrant, alternative voice of the masses in Ethiopia, was throttled in July 2005 by the violent actions of the tyrannical government of Meles Zenawi.

The dictator then put more than 23 free press journalists behind bars, charged them with crimes whose convictions include life sentences and death penalties, and in addition abolished the free press publications with the stroke of a pen!

We, the free press journalists in exile, are today taking the solemn duty of breaking asunder the deadly silence which the myopic, ethno-centric Dictator has imposed on us!

We shall break apart deadly silence not only with our objectively recognizable existence as dynamic agents of democracy in Ethiopia but also as still alert and active journalists of the free press who are organizing a concretely functioning, Alternative Media of Information for the people of Ethiopia (AMIE)!

We take this opportunity to call upon all members of EFJA and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and upon all professional colleagues and associations, to renew their traditional help and cooperation to enable us, the EFJA members, to launch a short-wave radio broadcasting service in Europe and to reach the hearts and minds of our people in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora.

The iconic representation of Ethiopians in the wake of the widespread famines of the 70's is the shocking picture of the emaciated children on the laps of the starved, skinny mothers! Those gruesome images of the cruellest economic deprivations of the people of Ethiopia, however, do not speak the whole truth! They do not reveal the other equally shocking forms of deprivation, in particular, the near-total gagging of the people, and the complete absence of alternative media information for the citizens of Ethiopia.

The free press, which dozens of committed and courageous journalists and publishers pioneered, existed in Ethiopia for over a decade as an alternative media of the people, presenting alternative news, information, opinions and aspirations of the citizens.

The state-owned, controlled, managed and all-reaching media either deliberately ignore or distort most of the information they are delivering. They were in the past as they are today, for that reason alone, ignored by the general public.

In contrast, the free press weeklies and monthlies are craved for by the public, obtained with a cost at least 300% higher than that of the overtly subsidized state media, and are perused with great alacrity. The content of the free press is valued greatly by its audience. Their comments and editorials actually guide the public as attested to by the huge turn-out to the 15 May 2005 national elections, and also from the lists of the endless persecutions which the regime in power lavishly meted out against the free press journalists!

Not a day has passed since August 1993 when there have not been a number of free press journalists who continue to be held in prison cells! International media and human rights organizations have condemned and re-condemned the government of Meles Zenawi for its arbitrary arrests and wanton persecutions of free press journalists. It has been the incessant reports and condemnations of the international media and human rights organizations that have kept Meles Zenawi, for more than a decade now, among the list of top ten enemies of the press!

EFJA is a member of the IFJ. Independently and through the latter, we are also affiliated with several international media and human rights organizations, among which some have manifested their appreciation of our professional works by giving us distinguished awards! Among the many others who closely follow our efforts to enable freedom of expression, and the right to publish a free press, many of whom have roots in Ethiopia, we are citing today by name and offering our deepest gratitude to the following:

a. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Brussels, Belgium
b. International Press Institute (IPI), Vienna, Austria
c. Amnesty International (AI), London, UK
d. Reporters sans frontières (RSF), Paris, France
e. International PEN, London, UK
f. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), New York, USA
g. International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), Toronto, Ontario, Canada
h. Human Rights Watch, New York and Washington DC, USA
i. UN Higher Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, NY, USA
j. The German Federation of Journalists Union, Germany

We, the Ethiopian free press journalists, have also been obtaining immensely valuable and most relevant, concrete supports from countries and organizations such as the European Union.

We are, therefore, highly appreciate of the eloquent representation which the EU Parliament Election Observation Team, under the leadership of Madam Ana Gomes, presented on the state- sabotaged May 2005 National Elections of Ethiopia, and of the subsequent resolutions of 22 July 2007, in which the EU parliament called on the commission and the member states to support the development of free media broadcasting in Ethiopia.

Democracy and Press Freedom shall prevail in Ethiopia!

Kifle Mulat
President, EFJA

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