On 8 July, ahead of an official visit by US President Obama, the Ethiopian government dropped charges against 3 journalists and 2 bloggers who had spent 439 days behind bars having been charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (652/2009), a seriously flawed piece of legislation.
While ARTICLE 19 welcomes the release of these individuals, we call upon the government to drop charges against the four bloggers who remain in jail and unconditionally release them.
“While this is a small victory, the Ethiopian government needs to start undertaking comprehensive legal reforms to repeal most laws which restrict freedom of expression and of the media. Other incarcerated journalists serving long sentences should also be released,” noted Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Regional Director.
By the order of the Ministry of Justice, charges were dropped against journalists Tesfalem Wadyes, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis and Edom Kassaye as well as Zelalem Kibret and Mahlet Fantahun, members of the blog Zone9. Prosecutors however will continue pursuing charges against Abel Wabella, Natinael Feleke, Befekadu Hailu, Atinaf Berhane and Soliana Shimelis of Zone9 bloggers, the latter charged in absentia.
The bloggers and journalists were arrested on 25 and 26 April 2014 and held at Maekelawi detention centre for 83 days, with limited access to legal representation, or visits by family members. Their arrests came two days after Zone 9, an independent collective of bloggers using social media to campaign against political repression, announced their return to activism.
ARTICLE 19 calls upon the international community to demand the Ethiopian government immediately stop intimidating, harassing, arresting and detaining journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders.
The government of Hailemariam Desalegn also needs to initiate a programme for comprehensive institutional and legal reform, including:-
- Reform of the Anti-terrorism Proclamation
- Reform of the Criminal Code
- Reform of the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation of 2009
- Decriminalisation of defamation
- Repeal of the provisions shielding public officials from criticism
- Bringing restrictions which supposedly protect national security into line with international standards on the freedom of expression.
This must be supported by a significant cultural shift in governance, moving away from secrecy and impunity, and towards full transparency and accountability.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
For more media interviews please contact: Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa; Email: [email protected] or call +254 +254 727 862230