Government rejects criticism over media

ADDIS ABABA, 12 July (IRIN) - Ethiopia has rejected accusations of cracking down on independent media after the disputed elections, insisting that it is upholding the law of the land.

Authorities also criticized international media watchdogs, saying they were ill-informed about what was actually taking place in Ethiopia.

"There is no crackdown," government spokesman, Zemedkun Teckle, said on Tuesday. "We are ensuring that the media abide by the rules and regulations of the land. The [international] media organisations are not considering what is going on practically on the ground, and don't care what these newspapers are doing."

The comments were made in response to criticism by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which accused the government of trying to stifle the press.

"CPJ is greatly alarmed by the government's use of repressive laws to harass and intimidate journalists trying to do their jobs," said Ann Cooper, executive director of the organisation. "Ethiopian authorities must publicly recognise the rights of journalists to inform the public and report critically without fear of reprisal."

According to the CPJ, Ethiopian authorities have pressed criminal charges against many editors from the Amharic language press for covering the aftermath of the 15 May parliamentary election.

At least eight local editors are awaiting trial on charges related to their work during this period. Others have reported being harassed or intimidated as a result of their coverage.

The defence ministry and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are among the bodies that have taken action against private newspapers over their post-election reporting.

Violence erupted after the polls, in which at least 36 protesters where reportedly shot dead by police during clashes. Thousands were also arrested after protests over alleged fraud in the parliamentary elections.

On Friday, Ethiopia's Supreme Court ordered three newspaper executives to reveal the name of a lawyer, who their newspapers cited anonymously as criticizing a recent court decision, the CPJ noted.

One of the three, Tamrat Serbesa, editor-in-chief of the private Amharic language weekly, Satanaw, was jailed overnight and released after posting bail. He and the other newspaper officials - Andualem Ayle, editor-in-chief of the private Amharic language weekly, Ethiop; and Tesfa Tegen, managing director of Ethiop - are due in court on 22 July to respond to the order.

The CPJ said they faced potential imprisonment if they did not disclose the name. In June officials briefly detained and questioned at least six editors from the Amharic language press, including Zelalem Gebre of Menilik.

On 7 June the Information Ministry revoked the accreditation of five Ethiopian journalists working for Voice of America and Deutsche Welle radio stations. Their permits have not been restored, and several of the journalists have reported further harassment by the authorities.