Ethiopia: Terrorism charges against Zone 9 Bloggers and journalists must be dropped

The Ethiopian government has charged seven bloggers and three journalists under the seriously flawed Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (652/2009), the latest move aimed at curtailing dissent in the country. Nine of the accused bloggers and journalists have been held at Maekelawi detention centre for 83 days with limited access to legal representation or visits by their family members.

The arrests of the bloggers and journalists followed two days after Zone 9, an independent collective of bloggers who use social media to campaign against political repression, announced their return to activism.

“Since the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation was enacted in 2009, it has been used to prosecute 22 journalists and bloggers. This law contains unacceptably broad definitions for ‘terrorist acts’ and grants the government almost unlimited powers to spy on and harass human rights defenders,” said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Director.

“The Zone 9 bloggers and journalists must be released and the charges against them dropped. This case demonstrates why the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation must be repealed urgently,” Maina added.

The seven bloggers; Soliana Shimelis (charged in absentia), Atnaf Berahane, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnael Feleke, Befeqadu Hailu, Zelalem Kiberet, Abel Wabela, and three journalists; Edom Kassaye, Tesfalem Weldeyes and Asmamaw Hailegorgis of Addis Guday magazine were accused of plotting to incite violence in cooperation with two organisations branded as terrorist networks: ‘Ginbot 7’ and ‘Oromo Liberation Front’ (OLF). The Zone 9 bloggers and journalists deny any association with these groups.

Soliana is accused of being the founder of Zone 9. According to the charges, she has been coordinating Zone 9’s foreign communications and taking orders directly from Ginbot 7. She is also accused of organising a ‘Security in a Box’ training for the Zone 9 group.

“It is baffling that the bloggers and journalists have been charged for undertaking a training using ‘security in a box’. This is an open source software widely respected for assisting human rights defenders and journalists to protect their anonymity and maintain the privacy of their communications from illegal government snooping. Encryption is part and parcel of the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy” added Maina.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression has criticised countries for undermining the use of privacy-enhancing tools to protect online communications. In his 2013 report to the UN Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur stressed that “individuals should be free to use whatever technology they choose to secure their communications.”

Befaqadu is accused of organising the group locally and assigning responsibilities to the members. He is also accused of creating contact with Ginbot 7 and OLF. Natnael Feleke was also said to have locally organised the group, assigned roles to members, communicated with Ginbot 7 and allegedly received and distributed 48,000 birr ($2432) to other members for the purpose of organising violence. The rest of the defendants are accused of being members of Zone 9 or working with them, taking orders and strategies from Ginbot 7 and OLF, creating local and foreign contacts, taking part in organising the crimes, and planning and organizing to incite violence. According to the charges all the defendants are said to have confessed to having plans to overthrow the government through violence and have been working accordingly since 2012. These charges are denied by the group.

ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned that the bloggers and journalists were charged two months after the Ethiopian government rejected UN member states’ recommendations to improve the situation for freedom of expression in the country during the Universal Periodic Review process. We fear that the situation may become worse as the country tightens controls ahead of the May 2015 elections.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the international community to demand the Ethiopian government immediately release the six bloggers and three journalists and drop all charges against the group. The government of Hailemariam Desalegn should stop intimidating, harassing, arresting and detaining journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders. Ethiopia must bring its legislation into line with international human rights standards.


Ethiopia: Declines to accept UN member states’ recommendations on free expression

Ethiopia: ARTICLE 19 submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Zone 9 bloggers must be immediately and unconditionally released

For more media interviews please contact: Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Director, [email protected] or call on +254 20 3862230/1/2 or +254 727 862 230

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