OCTOBER 10-13, 2005
Posted October 13, 2005
Kifle Mulat, EFJA
Taye Belachew, EFJA
Habetamu Assefa, EFJA
Sisay Agena, EFJA
Ethiopian police summoned and questioned the executive committee of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA), an independent organization that criticized a government crackdown on the press after opposition parties disputed the outcome of May parliamentary elections.
Four EFJA leaders reported to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in the capital, Addis Ababa, where they were questioned about the organization’s activities when it was officially banned from late 2003 to the end of 2004. The Federal High Court later ruled the ban illegal.
EFJA president Kifle Mulat, vice president Taye Belachew, accountant Habetamu Assefa, and treasurer Sisay Agena were fingerprinted, held for several hours, and questioned. The police made all four guarantee 2,000 birr (US$237) in bail.
A fifth executive committee member, public relations officer Tamiru Geda, was also summoned, although he was living in exile, according to local sources.
The EFJA was shut down in November 2003 after authorities claimed that the organization had repeatedly failed to submit a certified audit of its budget. However, some local journalists said that the audit was a pretext to close down an organization that had strongly criticized the government and Ethiopia’s dismal press freedom record. Soon afterwards, the Justice Ministry notified the EFJA executive committee members that they were barred from carrying out any activities for the organization, including communicating with “third parties” in their official capacity. Throughout 2004, state-owned media and government officials continued to warn that the original members of the executive committee were barred from communicating with media outlets and foreign organizations, according to local sources.
In response to a legal suit brought by the executive committee against the Justice Ministry, the Federal High Court decided twice – in December 2004 and March 2005 – in the committee’s favor, ruling that the Ministry’s ban was illegal, according to local sources.
In interrogations, however, the CID accused the EFJA leadership of illegally carrying out EFJA activities, including issuing press releases and speaking with reporters on press freedom issues, during the ban. Mulat told CPJ that police officers claimed not to know about the High Court’s decision.