Lawyers say ethnic Tigrayans outside embattled region are being held and their businesses shut amid 8-month conflict.
Ethiopia’s media regulator has suspended prominent independent online outlet The Addis Standard, accusing it of advancing the agenda of a “terrorist group”.
The publisher of the popular English-language website said late on Thursday it was disturbed by the decision and would appeal against it.
“The temporary suspension followed complaints and alarming trends in EMA’s (The Ethiopia Media Authority’s) monitoring findings,” the regulator said in an online statement.
“We have learned that the Media has been a platform to advance the terrorist group’s agenda,” it added, in a likely reference to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that the government has been fighting in the northern Tigray region since November 2020.
— Tsedale Lemma (@TsedaleLemma) July 15, 2021
The TPLF was designated by the government as a “terrorist” organisation in May but had dominated Ethiopian politics for 30 years until 2018.
The Addis Standard’s publisher, JAKENN Publishing, said on Twitter it was “deeply disturbed” by the regulator’s decision to suspend its media licence.
The company would appeal against the ruling, its founder, Tsedale Lemma, told the Reuters news agency by phone: “We plan to mount a legal defence against it because we think that this is not the right thing,” she said.
In a tweet, Lemma also urged staff of the Addis Standard and JAKENN to “Hold your (heads) up!”
“You are standing on the right side of your profession!” she wrote.
After coming to power in 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed oversaw wide-ranging reforms, including lifting bans on more than 250 media outlets and releasing dozens of journalists. His 2019 Nobel Peace Prize citation included praise for his “discontinuing media censorship”.
But international media watchdogs say the government has cracked down on the media since conflict erupted in November with the TPLF, the former governing party in the northern region of Tigray.
After Addis Standard issued a statement in early November urging the government to open channels of communication, Medihane Ekubamichael, a senior editor, was arrested at his home for “attempts to dismantle the Constitution through violence” and “outrage against the Constitution”. He was later released but then arrested again and held for about a month.
#Ethiopia🇪🇹: RSF has requested official clarifications from @EthMediaAuth after @addisstandard got suspended in a very untransparent way effective today. Jailing journalists arbitrarily is enough, authorities should refrain from further press freedom attacks against the media ! pic.twitter.com/iQA41k5HPt
— RSF (@RSF_inter) July 15, 2021
Media rights groups were quick to condemn the suspension, with Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in a tweet retweeted by the Addis Standard, calling on the Ethiopian government to provide an official clarification on the action and to “refrain from further press freedom attacks against the media!”.
Meanwhile, the Africa office of the Foreign Press Association tweeted: “Censorship, suppression and repression of the media only happens in authoritarian democracies”.
The government denies press freedoms are deteriorating.
Censorship, suppression and repression of the media only happens in authoritarian democracies. https://t.co/UjpkJC61zW
— FOREIGN PRESS ASSOCIATION, AFRICA (@FPA_Africa) July 15, 2021
The state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said on Sunday that police had arrested a total of 21 journalists from Awlo Media and Ethio Forum, two independent YouTube channels that have been critical of the government.
The Commission said federal police had told it that three of the journalists had since been released.