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Ethiopia journalists and bloggers to be arraigned in court


7 May 2014

Six Ethiopian bloggers and 3 journalists from the Zone 9 group arrested last month are set to be arraigned in court today. The six bloggers; Atnaf Berahane, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnael Feleke, Befeqadu Hailu, Zelalem Kiberet, Abel Wabela, and 3 journalists; Edom Kassaye, Tesfalem Weldeyes and Asmamaw Hailegorgis of Addis Guday magazine, were arrested on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 April and are being held at Maekelawi detention centre in Addis Ababa.

The authorities have charged all of them with "working with a foreign organization to incite public violence" via social media. Since the arrests a protest hashtag, #FreeZone9Bloggers, has been tweeted over eight thousand times. Respectable by international standards, but a top trend in a country where the internet is estimated to reach just over 1% of the population. The Zone 9 bloggers began writing together two years ago and they use the platform to criticize the government.

The arrests highlight the highly political role social media now plays in Ethiopia. Officially a democracy, human rights groups have repeatedly complained about the lack of press freedom there. Most of the TV and radio stations are state run. Because of this, the opposition and activists, including those based abroad, have come to dominate social media conversation in the country.

The crackdown seems to be a response to a statement from the group posted on April 23 on Facebook. Zone 9 wrote that they would resume their blogging after several months of inactivity. He says that the arrests "suggest that the government is taking online activism seriously probably because elections are due next year."

Several human rights groups including ARTICLE 19 have condemned Ethiopia crackdown on freedom of expression and demanded the release of the journalists. In its submission to the UPR, ARTICLE 19 noted that Ethiopia has mostly failed to comply with the recommendations that they accepted during the 2009 review, and the situation for freedom of expression and information has deteriorated rather than improved. State delegates must therefore seize this chance to ask Ethiopia’s government to respect its obligations of protecting and promoting freedom of expression. Specifically, we urge the State parties to call upon the Ethiopian government to stop intimidating, harassing, arresting and detaining journalists, including the Zone 9 group.

Support the online campaign to free the Zone 9 group.Follow this link for more details

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