Legal Commentary on the Zone9 Bloggers Case

Ethiopian Human rights project has conducted a short summarized legal commentary on the case of Zone9bloggers and three independent journalists.  (Public prosecution Vs Soleyana Shimeles et all). Below is the executive summary of the commentary. For more details, the full commentary can be downloaded on this link

On July 17, 2014, the Federal Prosecutor of Ethiopia charged 10 individuals (seven members of the Zone 9 blogging collective and three independent journalists) on two counts of terrorism under the case name Public Prosecutor vs. Soleyana Shimeles et al. The first count accuses the defendants of Terrorism, which is in violation of Articles 3(2) and 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The second count is for “outrages against the constitution” under Article 238(1) of the Federal Criminal Code. However, the court ultimately dropped this second charge on November 3, 2014. Five of the charged were released on July 8 & 9, 2015 after the prosecutor dropped charges, four individuals remain in custody and one remains charged in absentia. The purpose of this document is to analyze both the amended and dismissed charges against all 10 defendants.

The Ethiopia Human Rights Project (EHRP) calls for the charges to be dropped against the remaining five defendants as the trial process has been neither free nor fair and further human rights violations have occurred during the defendants’ time in custody. Key objections are highlighted below and further detailed in the subsequent text:

Denial of Bail: The right to bail, the constitutional right of any defendant has been violated on the case of Soleyana et. al. The right to bail of the defendants had been restricted by the mere fact that they were charged of terrorism.

Failure meet specificity thresholds in the charge: Ethiopian law requires that a prosecutor must establish clear and specific material, moral and legal crimes to constitute a charge. The absence of such clarity in the charge affects the accused’s’ constitutional right to clearly understand the criminal charge brought against them and curtails their right to challenge the prosecutor’s criminal allegation. This was apparent in several instances:

  • Material:  The prosecutor did not identify by name or other appropriate means the alleged clandestine/undercover enterprise established, joined and run by the accused. Without clearly understanding this, it is impossible to file a case according to procedure law.
  • Legal: The charge states the third defendant, Natnael Feleke Abera, received USD 2400 and distributed the money to members “under his command.” But the prosecutor did not sufficiently indicate who sent said money to Natnael and for what purpose it is used. Thus, there is no evidence that the funds were received or utilized for any purpose, much less in the commission of any illegal act.
  • Legal: The charge states that the defendants received various trainings that constituted an act of terrorism and were thus illegal. In this regard, issues such as who rendered the training, when and where the training is rendered to the accused is very important. But the prosecutor did not specify such important elements that constitute occurrence of such events, if any.
  • Moral/Mental: A criminal charge that accuses more than one person under the same charge needs to indicate the nature of the participation of each defendant in the commission of a crime according to criminal law.  A key aspect of the charge is the joint commitment to execute an act of terror. However, neither the police, the prosecution nor the court addresses the role each of those individually charged were responsible for executing/leading/etc.

Mistreatment and Torture while Detained: The second defendant, Befekadu Hailu (May 7th), the seventh defendant, Abel Wabella (on May 8, 2014) and the fifth defendant Atnaf Berhane (on May 17, 2014) informed the court that they were mistreated by police in order to obtain a confession of guilt.” The court has a duty as per Article 13 (2) of the FDRE constitution to enforce right of the detainees/accused not to be subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment as provided under Article 18 of the FDRE Constitution. In the case at hand, the court did not take appropriate measure to vigorously investigate the validity of complaints made by the accused during their pre-trial detention. Without an investigation, the court was prevented from taking remedial measure against the concerned body, if necessary, to ameliorate the condition of the treatment of the accused. The court’s failure to do so casts a high doubt in the ability of the court in implementing the laws impartially and issuing a fair decision at the end.

For the full legal commentary read the link here.

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