Ethiopia: NGO body threatened with ban for "political bias"

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

ADDIS ABABA, 18 July (IRIN) - An umbrella body representing more than 250 international and local charities in Ethiopia has said the government threatened on Saturday to ban it because of alleged "political bias".

The Christian Relief and Development Association (CRDA) said it was accused of "illegal and destructive activities" after voicing concerns over post-election violence.

"We are very alarmed by this threat because it means any criticism being made within the country is being stifled," Semira Alhadi, deputy director of the body, told IRIN.

Ethiopia's justice ministry has called a meeting on Tuesday with the 12-strong board of the CRDA.

CRDA had called for an independent inquiry after an estimated 40 people were killed during violent clashes between security forces and civilians protesting alleged electoral fraud in the 15 May elections.

It said the media was being muzzled and civil society was being marginalised in the Horn of Africa country. It also condemned mass arrests and demanded an independent inquiry into the killings.

The organisation criticised Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's ban on demonstrations in the capital, and said it had not served its purpose because people had been killed in clashes with police.

"We still stand by these points - we don't have to be a political party to demand justice and transparency," Semira said.

"We have basically made the same points that have been made by the United States government and the European Union, but we are targeted for bias," he added. "We are afraid that the government is beginning a long process of harassment or imprisonment because of criticisms that have been made."

Among CRDA members are international charities including Save the Children, Action Aid, Concern and Oxfam.

The Ethiopian information ministry, in the statement released to state media, said: "It is no secret that this organization is not only engaged in disseminating a baseless and blatant campaign against the on-going intensive development efforts of the government, but also indicates that it has no intention to collaborate as a development partner because it is bent on realizing a hidden political agenda."

Meanwhile two more newspaper editors have been arrested in the country for their reporting on post-election violence.

Fassil Yenalem, editor-in-chief of "Addis Zena" newspaper and Amare Aregawi, publisher and editor-in-chief of "Reporter" newspaper and magazine, were arrested for their coverage of the aftermath of the election.

At least eight local editors are awaiting trial on recent charges related to their work during this period, according to international media watchdogs. Many others report being harassed or otherwise intimidated for their coverage, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said last week.


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