Zelalem Kibret

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Police raided the homes and offices of six bloggers who wrote critical online commentaries in a collective called “Zone 9” along with two journalists, freelancers Tesfalem Waldeyes and Edom Kassaye. Three of the bloggers were picked up at their offices while the rest were arrested in their homes, according to local journalists. On April 26, 2014, authorities also arrested the senior editor of the Amharic weekly magazine Addis Guday, Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, the same sources told CPJ.

On April 27, 2014, a public prosecutor in the capital, Addis Ababa, accused the detainees of working with foreign human rights organizations and using social media to create instability in the country, according to news reports and local journalists. Authorities held the group at Maekelawi Federal Detention Center for nearly three months without charge, beyond the maximum period allowed under the anti-terrorism law, according to news reports. Some of those arrested complained of serious mistreatment by investigators and said their defense lawyer was excluded from some of the proceedings.

On July 17, 2014, an Ethiopian court charged the nine journalists with inciting violence and terrorism, according to local journalists and news reports. Subsequent court hearings were adjourned more than a dozen times, and the trial had not concluded as of late 2014.

Soleyana Gebremicheal, another member of Zone 9, was charged in absentia, according to news reports. In an October 15, 2014, hearing, Edom Kassaye and Mahlet Fantahun told the court that prison wardens were treating them like terrorists even though their trial was ongoing and that authorities had restricted their family members’ visits.

The arrests followed an April 23, 2014, announcement on Facebook by the bloggers in which they said they would resume publishing after seven months of inactivity. They had suspended publishing after being harassed by security agents, according to the Zone 9 blog. Local journalists said the other detainees–Asmamaw and freelancers Tesfalem and Edom-may have been arrested on suspicion of being affiliated with the Zone 9 journalists. Edom had been approached on several occasions and asked about her relationship to the Zone 9 journalists and the support they received from outside organizations, the same sources said.

Zone 9 is an independent collective that publishes news and commentary. The group was formed in May 2012 in response to the evisceration of the independent press and the narrowing of the space for free expression. Its name is derived from Kality Prison, the main jail where Ethiopia’s political prisoners, including several journalists, are held, news reports said. With the motto “We Blog Because We Care,” the group voiced concerns over issues including political repression and social injustice. The Zone 9 blogs were frequently blocked inside Ethiopia, but gained a following with Ethiopians in the diaspora, according to local reports.

On November 5, 2014, the journalists’ lawyers appealed at the Supreme Court for their release on bail, but the motion was denied, defense lawyer Ameha Mehonnen told CPJ.