Ethiopia charges Zone 9 bloggers and journalists with ‘terrorism’

The Ethiopian bloggers and journalists held in jail since April have been charged with terrorism. On 17 July prosecutors formally charged the seven members of the Zone 9 bloggers and three journalists at the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa. Bloggers Abel Wabella , Atnaf Birhane, Befekadu Haliu, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnail Feleke, Zelalem Kibret and journalists:Edom Kasaye, Tesfalem Waldeyes and Asemamaw Hailegiorgis remain in custody while blogger Soleyana Shimeles is charged in absentia. They were held in detention for nearly three months without charges and were subjected to torture and mistreatment while in custody.

The charges claim that the bloggers and journalists formed a clandestine terrorist group and had been taking direct instructions from Ginbot 7 and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), opposition groups designated as terrorists by the Ethiopian Parliament in 2011.  The charges further state that the “defendants took several trainings abroad in online security in order to hide their activities from government security,” mentioning the use of “security in a box”, an open source tool on internet security as an example. Ms. Soleyana Shimeles has been mentioned as founder, leader and foreign relation coordinator of the group, Befekadu Hailu as the in-country coordinator of the group. The prosecution invoked the widely criticized Ethiopian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) of 2009 (article 3) as well as article 238 of the Criminal Code of Ethiopia, which prohibits crimes against the Constitution and the State and overthrow of the government through violence. The defendants could be sentenced to death if convicted under these provisions.

EHRP believes that the charges are part of a pattern of using the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to criminalize legitimate dissent a move to further close down the political space ahead of the elections in 2015.

Furthermore, given the complete lack of independence of the Ethiopian Judiciary in cases like this, it is not expected that the bloggers and journalists will receive an impartial trial.  Therefore, we urge the global human rights community to lobby the Government of Ethiopia to drop all the charges, release the detained bloggers and journalists as they have not committed any crimes.  The Ethiopian government should celebrate that they were advocating for debate and dialogue on human rights and democracy in the country, not punish them for encouraging other citizens to participate more actively in the country’s governance.

Get full charge document here – Zone9 charges

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