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Acquittal of bloggers no victory for free speech in Ethiopia, says Amnesty

Sunday October 18, 2015

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Amnesty International on Saturday said the acquittal of some Ethiopian bloggers members of the ‘Zone 9’ group should not be taken as victory for freedom of expression to the horn of Africa’s nation.

A court in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Friday acquitted four bloggers of terrorism charges after 539 days in detention.

The four are among the total nine members of the Zone-9 group, who had been detained in April 2014 over accusations of plotting to incite violence, planning to carry out attacks in collaboration with the US based, Ginbot 7, an opposition group designated as a terrorist entity by the Ethiopian government.

Terror charges against other five members of the Zone 9 collective were dropped and were released in July, weeks before the visit of US president Barack Obama.

The Zone 9 bloggers are known of their strong criticism to the Ethiopian government.

Another blogger, Soliyana Gebremichael, who fled to the United States, was also acquitted in absentia.

Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes said the imminent release of 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.

He added “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 press freedom group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomed the court’s acquittal to the bloggers but urged authorities in Ethiopia to drop and clear charges against a fifth Zone 9 blogger, Befekadu Hailu, who was acquitted of terrorism charges but is being held on charges of inciting violence using his blog post.

“We are elated that the terrorism charges against the Zone 9 bloggers are dropped and urge the court to dismiss the criminal charges against Befekadu Hailu” said CPJ’s East Africa representative, Tom Rhodes.

“Ethiopia should be listening to critical voices to strengthen democracy and development, not jailing them. We call on authorities to immediately release all other journalists imprisoned in relation to their work”

The group urged on the judicial authorities to compensate them for the effects of their unjustified detention.

“We also call on the judicial authorities to pursue their reasoning to its logical conclusion and to drop the remaining charge against the last blogger still held” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.

Ethiopia had long been under fire of using the broadly defined anti-terrorism law as a tool to stifle freedom of expression and to silence opposition voices.

Ethiopian opposition groups have also been accusing the government of systematically using the terror law to punish political opponents and supporters, an allegation government denies.


 





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