ARTICLE 19 welcomes the Ethiopian Court’s decision to uphold the right to freedom of expression, and drop the terrorism charges against the Zone 9 bloggers. However, we maintain the call for the government to drop incitement charges against Befekadu Hailu, and release him unconditionally.
“This is a big win for the bloggers and the freedom of expression community in Ethiopia and in Africa. We laud the courts for finding the charges and evidence adduced to be weak and deciding in favour of expression. We, however, continue to call on the Ethiopian authorities to review the anti-terrorism proclamation to ensure it reflects international standards,” said Henry Maina, Regional Director, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
On the 9 October, three bloggers, Atnaf Berhane, Abel Wabella and Natnail Feleke, were released from custody, after terrorism and incitement charges were dropped. They had been in custody for 18 months, during which they appeared in court 39 times. Soliyana Shimeles, charged in absentia, was also acquitted. The court found the documents provided by prosecutors insufficient to establish terrorism, dropping all charges.
Befekadu, the last of the Zone 9 bloggers still in custody, will appear in court on 21 October 2015, when his application for bail will be determined. He faces charges of incitement to violence.
The Zone Nine bloggers and journalists were detained and charged with terrorism in April 2014 for critical postings on their blog. In July 2015, ahead of US President Obama’s visit to the country, journalist Tesfalem Waldyes, and five other bloggers, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, Zelalem Kiberet Mahlet Fantahun and Edom Kassaye, were released.