Addis Standard (Addis Ababa)

17 May 2014

Ethiopia: Court Grants the Police Twenty Eight More Days in the Case Against Ethiopian Journalists, Bloggers

Detainees to be charged with Ethiopia's infamous Anti-Terrorism proclamation Mahelt Fasil

A court in Addis Abeba has today granted the police investigating the case of three independent journalists and six bloggers 28 more days to further investigate detainees.

Of the nine journalists and bloggers under police custody the case for four members of the zone9 blog: Atinaf Berhane, Zelalem Kibret and Natnail Feleke as well as freelance journalits the zone9 blog members close friend Edom Kassaye, and two journalists: Tesfalem Waldyes and Asmamaw Hailegiorgis. All the nine were under police custody for the last three weeks and have not yet been charged.

However, the police have today said that the detainees were to be charged with the country's infamous anti-terrorism proclamation 652/2009.

According to the proclamation the police can request 28 days during each court appearance until charges are brought against detainees. An early police indictment against the detainees accused them of accepting money and working with foreign organizations and rights activists and using social media to destabilize the country and that it request the court for more days to establish evidence supporting its claim.

According to Ethiopia's anti-terrorism proclamation, which is widely criticized for being indiscriminately broad and open for interpretation, "whosever recruits another person or takes training or becomes a member or participates in any capacity for the purpose of a terrorist organization or committing a terrorist act, on the basis of his level of participation, is punishable with rigorous imprisonment from 5 to 10 years."

The hearing at the First Bench of the Arada First Instance Court was conducted under tight security with police officers vividly intimidating friends and family members of the detainees who were at the scene of the court compound. Previous hearings were conducted behinds closed doors but today, a select few friends and family members of the detainees were allowed to come inside.

According to one witness who was allowed to come inside the court room, Zone9 blog member Atinaf Berhane complained of sever torture and interrogation which sometimes went on until two am in the morning. During the last hearing on May 7th, Zon9 blog members Abel Wabela and Befekadu Hailu have lodged similar complaints against the police. The court had also ruled illegal the incommunicado status of the detainees. But all detainees were only able to see their lawyers on Friday May 16th and Wednesday May 14th, according defense lawyer Amha Mekonnen.

The next hearing is adjourned for June 14th. The no-bail application by the police was granted after the police said they were not done compiling evidences, such as e-mails and printed documents linking the suspects to foreign organizations working to destabilize the country. The police also complained that they were not able to access the facebook and twitter accounts of the detainees, which were quickly disabled after the hearing on May 7th and 8th. The police also said some of their witnesses were facing intimidations. Journalist Asmamaw Hailegiorgis

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