By Dawit Endeshaw
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia's media regulator said it had suspended the news website The Addis Standard on Thursday and accused it of advancing the agenda of a terrorist group.
The publisher of the popular English-language website said it was disturbed by the decision and would appeal against it, but did not immediately comment on the regulator's accusation.
The Addis Standard website - which has regularly criticised the government - was still visible in Ethiopia on Thursday, but its most recent stories were a day old.
"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," the regulator said, in a likely reference to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that the government has been fighting since November.
The government designated the TPLF as a terrorist organization in May.
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 ruling party in the northern region of Tigray which dominated national politics in Ethiopia for nearly three decades until Abiy came to power.
The government denies press freedoms are deteriorating.
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 Reuters by phone. "We plan to mount a legal defence against it because we think that this is not the right thing," she said.
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 police did not immediately to respond to Reuters requests for comment sent via WhatsApp.
The Commission said federal police had told it that three of the journalists had since been released.
(Additional reporting by Omar Mohammed and George Obulutsa in Nairobi; writing by George Obulutsa; editing by Katharine Houreld and Andrew Heavens)