Ethiopia: Free expression and online anonymity must be respected

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the 6 April decision of the Ethiopian Supreme Court to uphold the acquittal of Soleyana S Gebremichael and Abel Wabella on terrorism charges under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and Criminal Code. The Zone 9 bloggers are a collective of Ethiopian writers whose website produces social and political commentary often critical of the government. Gebremichael and Wabella are two of the four Zone 9 bloggers who had earlier been acquitted in October 2015.

However, ARTICLE 19 is seriously concerned by the decision of the court to charge the other two Zone 9 bloggers, Atnaf Berhane and Natnail Feleke, on new charges of incitement to violence under Article 257 of the Criminal Code. This was as a result of the bloggers’ possession of digital security manuals such as tutorials on communication encryption, which were alleged to be evidence of involvement in terrorism activities.

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the acquittal of Soleyana S Gebremichael and Abel Wabella is an encouraging step in the right direction. However, the introduction of new charges of inciting violence for Atnaf Berhane and Natnail Feleke indicates renewed state pursuit of free speech activists,” noted Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Regional Director.

Freedom of expression, assembly and civic space in Ethiopia has further diminished over the past year following the state of emergency that was ordered by the state as a response to widespread protests in the Oromia region.

In order for people to meaningfully exercise their right to freedom of expression, there needs to be strong privacy protections. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression has reiterated that encryption and digital security are vital to freedom of expression. We urge the Ethiopian government to drop these new charges, as they create a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country,” added Maina.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the prosecutor to drop the new charges against Atnaf Berhane and Natnail Feleke and to begin a process where other journalists, bloggers and citizens who have been arrested in violation of their right to free expression are freed.

For more information, contact Henry Maina Regional Director – ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa [email protected]  +254 727862230