Remaining Zone 9 bloggers acquitted of terrorism

Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that four members of the Zone 9 blogging collective who have been held since April 2014 have just been acquitted on a charge of terrorism.

One of the four, Befekadu Hailu, will nonetheless remain in detention on a charge of “inciting violence” in his blog posts, which were very critical of the government. Reporters Without Borders deplores this additional charge, which carries a possible three-year jail term. The other three, Atnaf Berane, Abel Wabella and Natnail Feleke are due to be released shortly.

The Addis Ababa court also acquitted a fifth blogger, Soleyana Gebremichael, who fled to the United States and who was tried in absentia.

Explaining the acquittals, the court said criticizing the government did not constitute terrorism.

“We are relieved that Atnaf Berane, Abel Wabella, Natnail Feleke and Soleyana Gebremichael have finally been found innocent,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.

“These bloggers should never have been arrested and, even more so, should never have spent 539 days in preventive detention. We urge the judicial authorities to compensate them for the effects of their unjustified detention. We also call on the judicial authorities to pursue their reasoning to its logical conclusion and to drop the remaining charge against the last blogger still held.”



Another delay in Zone 9 bloggers’ trial


An Addis Ababa court yesterday again adjourned a hearing in the trial of Zone 9 bloggers Atnaf Berhane, Befekadu Hailu, Abel Wabella and Natnail Feleke. Officials said it had to be postponed because two of the judges were receiving “training.”

The court had been expected to issue a verdict during the hearing, the 37th in the trial. Atnaf Berhane, Befekadu Hailu, Abel Wabella and Natnail Feleke will now have to wait until 16 October to learn their fate.

We are outraged by this latest postponement, which prolongs the agony of the four Zone 9 bloggers still being held,” Reporters Without Borders editor in chief Virginie Dangles said. “We again call on the authorities to free them at once because they committed no crime.

Since the arrests of a total of six Zone 9 bloggers in April 2014, the trial has been adjourned 38 times. Two of the six, Mahlet Fantahun and Zelalem Kibret, were released in July 2015 after the justice ministry dropped the charges against them without explaining why.

Arrested under the 2009 anti-terrorism law, the bloggers are accused of “working with foreign organizations claiming to defend human rights” and “receiving funding in order to incite the public to violence via social media.”

Ethiopia is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.