Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ethiopia: One year on, Ethiopian Zone 9 bloggers remain in detention


24 April 2015
PEN International

This statement was originally published on on 24 April 2015.

This weekend, the 25 and 26 April 2015, marks the anniversary of the detention of six bloggers and three independent journalists arrested under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation 2009. One year on there is little to celebrate.

Since their detention, their trial has been adjourned at least 26 times, most recently on 8 April, according to Trial Tracker Blog – a blog which publishes regular reports on their case. Their next hearing is scheduled to take place on 26 May, two days after Ethiopia's general election. Repeated delays alongside allegations of procedural irregularities, lack of access to legal counsel, and mistreatment during detention, continue to go unaddressed by the court giving rise to concerns for the defendants' right to due process.

Atnaf Berhane, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnael Feleke, Befeqadu Hailu, Zelalem Kiberet, Abel Wabela contributors to the Zone 9 blog, and Tesfalem Waldyes, Asmamaw Haile Gorgis, and Edom Kassaye independent journalists were arrested on 25 and 26 April 2014 in a series of coordinated arrests. After being held for more than 80 days without charge – beyond the maximum period permitted by law – the group were formally charged with intending to “destabilise the nation,” connections to outlawed organisations including Ginbot7 and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and planning to carry out terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Act on 18 July 2014. They also stand accused of using digital encryption to communicate. A translated version of the charge sheet is available here.

In July 2014, it was reported that Soliana Shimeles had been charged in absentia with coordinating communications with terrorist organisations for Zone 9 from abroad, enlisting new recruits to join Ginbot7, and coordinating digital security training with “Security in-a-box” on 17 July 2014. According to translated court documents, the authorities seized as evidence a Ginbot7 press release, recruiting criteria for Ginbot7, a human rights and digital security training manual and documents from an advocacy workshop.

Since 2009, the state has increasingly utilised its Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009 to arbitrarily arrest, prosecute and detain independent journalists and opposition activists. At least five print journalists are currently held in the country for supposed terrorism offences: Eskinder Nega (journalist for now-defunct political magazine Change), Reeyot Alemu (contributor to the independent weekly Feteh), Woubshet Taye (deputy editor of the now-defunct Awramba Times), Yusuf Getachew and Solomon Kebede (editor and managing editor of the now-defunct weekly newspaper Ye Muslimoch Guday [Muslim Affairs]); for more information see PEN's previous actions and Case List. PEN believes that these journalists have been jailed because of their critical reporting and considers the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to be draconian. Actions classified as 'terrorist' by the law would often not even be considered crimes outside of Ethiopia.