November 19, 2015 - Updated on August 19, 2016

Zone9 blogger banned from attending RSF award ceremony

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is worried about a travel ban imposed on the blogger Zelalem Kibret, which prevented him from flying to France to receive this year’s RSF Press Freedom Prize in the citizen-journalist category on behalf of the Zone9 blogger collective. As Zelalem Kibret was about to set off for Paris on 16 November, the Ethiopian authorities confiscated his passport and prevented him from boarding his plane. Immigration officials said he could not leave Ethiopia because he and other Zone9 members had previously been arrested. RSF has repeatedly tried to obtain more information about the travel ban from the Ethiopian authorities in Addis Ababa and Paris, but without success. “We are surprised and disturbed by the travel ban imposed on Zelalem Kibret,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “No restriction was placed on his movements when he was released in July, and the rest of the collective was cleared of all terrorism charges in October. We do not understand why his passport has been confiscated and we urge the relevant authorities to quickly restore his rights.” When Kibret complied with instructions to go to the police the next day, he was told that an investigation was under way and that his passport would not be returned until it was completed. Kibret was one of six Zone9 bloggers who were arrested on terrorism charges in April 2014. He and one other were released on the justice minister’s orders in July 2015, after being held for 15 months. The other four were acquitted on all terrorism charges and were freed three months later. Soleyana Gebremicheal, a Zone9 cofounder who had left the country, was also acquitted. By means of a video recorded in Washington, Gebremicheal represented Zone9 at the award ceremony in Strasbourg on 17 November. Ethiopia is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Click here for more information about press freedom in Ethiopia.