(Amnesty International) — The acquittal of three bloggers by an Ethiopian court after 539 days in detention must not be dressed up as a victory for freedom of expression, said Amnesty International today.
Natnael Feleke, Atnaf Berhane and Abel Wabela, who were tried on terrorism charges, were acquitted by the federal court today in Addis Ababa but have yet to be released. The fourth, Befeqadu Hailu, was also acquitted of terrorism charges but trial hearings on an incitement charge will continue. A fifth blogger, Soliyana Gebremichael, in exile in the USA, was also acquitted.
It is shameful that the Ethiopian authorities arrested them in the first place, subjected them to a sham judicial process and incarcerated them for nearly a year and a half.
“The imminent release of three bloggers must not be dressed up as a victory for freedom of expression in Ethiopia. It is shameful that the Ethiopian authorities arrested them in the first place, subjected them to a sham judicial process and incarcerated them for nearly a year and a half,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“This is an authoritarian government which continues to repress freedom of expression and crush dissent at every turn. If it is serious about putting right the wrongs of the past, it must immediately release the scores of other journalists, political opposition leaders, and protesters who have been arbitrarily detained or wrongfully imprisoned simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”
The bloggers are all members of the Zone 9 collective, which has repeatedly criticised the government. Today was the 39th time the four prisoners of conscience appeared in court for a hearing since their arrest in a government crackdown in April 2014.
The Ethiopian government introduced the Anti-Terror Proclamation in 2009. It has repeatedly used this law, along with lengthy trial delays, to intimidate and silence its critics.
Amnesty International has been campaigning for the release of Eskinder Nega, a journalist, who was jailed for 12 years on terrorism charges in April 2012 after criticising the government. The organization considers him a prisoner of conscience
Ethiopian court acquits bloggers of terrorism charges
Court throws out case against four bloggers accused of planning attacks and collaborating with “terrorist organisation”.
Critics say Ethiopia uses security threats as an excuse to stifle dissent and media freedom [EPA]
(Aljazeera) — Four Ethiopian bloggers were acquitted of terrorism charges after 18 months in jail, a case widely condemned by rights groups as an assault on press freedom.The bloggers were accused of planning attacks and collaborating with US-based opposition group Ginbot 7, labelled a terrorist organisation by Ethiopian authorities.”They shouldn’t have stayed in prison for so long – 539 days – in fact, they shouldn’t have been prosecuted in the first place,” defence lawyer Amha Mekonnen said on Friday after the court ruling.
“The court said all the evidence presented was very weak to prove they were planning any kind of terrorism – the court connected their writings to freedom of expression,” Mekonnen said.
Three of the jailed – Atnaf Berhane, Abel Wabella and Natnail Feleke – were said to be freed from custody on Friday.
But another journalist, Befekadu Hailu, while being acquitted of terrorism charges, remained in custody on charges of inciting violence, a crime that carries a sentence of up to 10 years.
A fifth blogger, Soleyana Gebremichael, is in exile, and was acquitted of all charges in absentia.
Six bloggers from the Zone 9 website were arrested in April 2014 and charged with terrorism for having links to an outlawed group and for planning attacks.
Two were released in July 2015 after charges were dropped, alongside three other journalists.
The courtroom was crowded with friends and family, with many crying as charges were dropped.
“I have a bittersweet feeling – they spent a year and six months in prison for doing nothing, we spent a year and three months for nothing,” said journalist Tesfalem Waldyes, who was released from prison in July, but came back to court to hear the verdict on Friday.
“On charges of terrorism? This absurd, this whole thing is absurd.” Waldyes said.
Rights groups have criticised Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism legislation for being vaguely worded and used to stifle peaceful dissent.
Tom Rhodes from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which lists Ethiopia as the “second-worst jailer of journalists in Africa”, said he was “jubilant” at the news.
“This is long, long overdue since the prosecution clearly had no evidence against them,” Rhodes said.
“I hope this may be a sign that the government may ease off on the other cases still ongoing.”