April 29, 2015 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Zone9 bloggers 365 days too many in prison

Six bloggers with the Zone 9 Collective and three journalists who were arrested at the same time have just begun their second year in prison without any possibility of being freed on bail. This past weekend was the anniversary their arrests. Reporters Without Borders condemns their arbitrary persecution by Ethiopia’s government with the aim of silencing independent voices. The six Zone9 bloggers (Atnaf Berhane, Mahlet Fantahun, Befekadu Hailu, Abel Wabella, Natnail Feleke and Zelalem Kibret) and the three journalists (Addis Standard’s Tesfalem Waldyes, former Addis Zemen employee Edom Kasaye and Addis Guday’s Asmamaw Hailegiorgis) were arrested in a coordinated operation in Addis Ababa on 25 and 26 April 2014. In the past year, their trial has been adjourned 27 times and their requests for release on bail systematically denied. Nonetheless, the prosecution has still not been able to produce evidence against them or say exactly what they are supposed to have done that justifies holding them. “We call for the immediate release of these bloggers and journalists, who have been unjustly detained for more than a year,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk. “Their prolonged detention without any possibility of release on bail violates their right to due process.” "As David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, has noted, Ethiopia recognized the need to respect media freedom during its last Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council. So why is it waiting to implement it?" Kaye said on 25 April: “The continued detention of these journalists is absolutely unacceptable and particularly worrying as the country prepares to hold parliamentary elections on 24 May. The open public debate that should mark any democratic process is obviously undermined if journalists are silenced through harassment or detention.” The nine defendants are charged under the 2009 anti-terrorism law with “organizing themselves into covert groups to overthrow the government by contacting and receiving finance and training from two terrorist groups” – a charge that carries a possible 15-year jail sentence. Soliyana Shimelis, the group’s cofounder, who had fled abroad before the arrests, is being tried in absentia. The next hearing has been scheduled for 26 May. Ethiopia is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.