Authorities arrested Zelalem at his home in the capital, Addis Ababa, on July 8, 2014 during a mass arrest of opposition leaders and social media activists, exiled Ethiopian journalists told CPJ. On October 31, 2014, Ethiopia's Federal High Court charged Zelalem under the 2009 anti-terrorism law for having links to the Diaspora-based opposition group Ginbot 7, and for applying to attend a journalism training course, local journalists and reports said. No evidence was provided regarding his alleged links to the opposition group, local journalists added.
Zelalem, an active blogger who routinely contributed to the news website De Birhan and other websites, was working with exiled Ethiopian journalists to organize a journalism training course for himself and two of his colleagues, local journalists said. Zelalem and his colleagues had plans to launch a similar blog site to that of the Zone 9 bloggers who were arrested in April the same year, the same journalists told CPJ.
Zelalem was studying for a Masters in public administration at Addis Ababa University at the time of his arrest. In May 2016, Zelalem was sentenced to five years and four months in prison on vague anti-terror charges according to press reports. Journalists living in exile, who follow his case, told CPJ that Zelalem was initially held in Kilinto.
In late 2017, Tedla Desta, the editor of De Birhan, said that authorities are now holding Zelalem in Ziway prison. Befekadu Hailu a journalist and blogger who has often visited Zelalem in Ziway, told CPJ he was in “good condition.”
CPJ called and emailed Ethiopia Information Minister Negeri Lencho and called government spokesperson Mohamed Seid on multiple occasions in September and October 2017 for comment on this and other cases of imprisoned journalists. The minister and spokesperson did not answer nor reply to text messages.