Ethiopian paper quits under government pressure

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) – A leading Ethiopian newspaper said Friday it had closed down as a result of months of government “persecution and harassment” against its staff.

“This is the culmination of months of persecution, harassment and black propaganda by the Ethiopian government on Addis Neger,” the name of the paper launched two years ago, said executive editor Abiye Teklemariam.

Addis Neger, a weekly newspaper often critical of government policies published its last edition on Saturday before some of its staff fled the country for fear of arrest.

“Three of Addis Neger’s editors left the country this week after the paper learnt that the government was preparing criminal charges against its top editors, reporters and owners based on the new anti-terror law and the criminal code,” the paper said in a statement sent to AFP.

Ethiopia’s parliament adopted an anti-terror law earlier this year that opposition leaders and the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch said would curb independent criticism of the ruling EPRDF party ahead of elections in 2010.

Four other media firms meanwhile, told AFP that the government was seeking to freeze their liquid and fixed assets under treason-related charges dating to electoral violence in 2005.

“The government has suddenly decided to pursue the case… and is appealing a pardon by the president in accordance with the law and the public pronouncements of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in 2007,” said Serkalem Fasil, speaking for the four groups.

The government was not immediately available for comment on the accusations.

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders condemned what it described as a “climate of fear” prevailing in Ethiopia.

“The spectre of the 2005 crackdown on the opposition and on the independent press is resurfacing in the run-up to the May 2010 general elections,” it said in a statement.

“We condemn the fact that a weekly has been forced to close because of a smear campaign and because its staff was gripped by fear. We hope the government?s assurances will allow it to resume publishing soon.”

The Horn of Africa nation is to hold elections on May 23, the first since 2005 when nearly 200 people were killed in post-poll violence sparked by allegations of vote-rigging.