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On World Press Freedom Day, journalists in exile call on international community to pressure government to lift ban on free press

(EFJA/IFEX) - 3 May 2009 - We, members of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA) in exile all over the world, observe today, 3 May 2009, with highly charged emotions.

We are very disturbed and in despair over the persistent authoritarian and brutal behavior of the government of Meles Zenawi, which succeeded in effectively putting all the financial, material, manpower and institutional services and resources of the state bureaucracy under its monopolistic hold to suppress and finally silence the independent press, the only formal outlet of the people in the country.

One of the most glaring instances of the intensity of the persecutions of the free press in Ethiopia is manifested in the large number of journalists who fled the country into exile to save their lives. Over 101 journalists have been forced into exile. Eleven are still facing serious difficulties in Kenya, Uganda, Yemen, Japan and India.

Most journalists left after the brutal 2005 crackdown on the press. In October 2005, the government closed down all independent publications in the country as a deadly vengeance to its defeat in the elections. Since then most of those publications have not been allowed to resume functioning. Journalists Serkalem Fasil, Eskindir Nega and Sisay Agena are still being denied press licenses. The editors of the weeklies Awramba Times, Harambe, Enku and Addis Neger suffer frequent harassment under the new punitive Press Law, which has become the tool for silencing any criticism of the ruling party. And several papers have been compelled to close down due to persistent harassment and deliberate sky-rocketing of printing prices.

We appeal to the international community, donor countries and human rights groups to pressure the government of Meles Zenawi to lift the ban on the free press and the dreadful policies which the regime has been pursuing against independent journalists. We also urge the international community not to ignore the plight of the exiled journalists in Kenya, Uganda, Yemen and India, who are facing serious problems.

We take this opportunity to thank the numerous international media and human rights organizations that have been maintaining a steady solidarity with the EFJA, and that have played a crucial role in publicizing worldwide the tribulations of Ethiopian journalists.

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