17 July 2014

Ethiopia Formally Charges Bloggers, Journalists With Terrorism As Confusion Surrounds the Process

Photo: Sudan Tribune
Media freedom (file photo): Six bloggers and three journalists charged with terror activities in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian Prosecutors have today formally charged six members of the blog Zone9 and three independent journalists detained nearly three months ago. Soliana Shimelis, the seventh defendant of the group Zone9 is charged in absentia, according to a local bi weekly, The Reporter.

However, earlier on Thursday, the lawyer for the eight defendants Amha Mekonnen told AFP that they were "waiting for charges to appear. I'm going to lodge a civil suit against police requesting the court to compel the police to release them," adding further confusion into the matter by which the pre-trial was closed transferred from the remand court in Arada First Instance Bench and to the Lideta High Court 19th bench without the presence of neither the defendants, nor their lawyers.

According to our own reporter Mahlet Fasil, who was at the court this morning, the six bloggers and the three journalists have briefly appeared at the Lideta court without their lawyers; but they have protested the procedure to the presiding judge, who has then adjourned the case for tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning.

However, The Reporter said late this afternoon that Zone9 bloggers Mahlet Fantahun, Befikadu Hailu, Atinafu Birhane,Natinael Feleke , Zelalem Kibiret, Abel Wabela and independent Journalists: Edom Kassaye, Tesfalem Waldeyes, and Assmamaw H/Giorgis were officially charged for having connections with outlawed terrorist organization Ginbot 7, and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), another rebel organization outlawed by the government in Ethiopia.

The charges further allege that Soliana was the founder of the group since 2012 and was coordinating the group's foreign relations and was directly in contact with members of Ginbot 7. She has also coordinated an online training from "Security in Box" for the group while Befekadu worked in coordinating local recruits and assigning responsibilities. The charges further allege Natinael Feleke received a sum of 48, 000 birr from Ginbot 7 for the purpose of inciting violence.

All the rest of the group as well as the three journalists were charged with receiving logistics and strategies from Ginbot 7 and OLF., according to The Reporter.

The detention on 24th and 25th of April by the police of the six bloggers and three journalist has caused an international outcry and has caused the biggest social media campaign called #Freezone9bloggers amongst social media users in Ethiopia and beyond.

In a related development the court at Arada First Instance Bench has today granted the police 28 days to remand four members of opposition party groups who were arrested last week. However, the police didn't bring all the detainees: Abraha Desta of Arena-Tigray, who is the party's executive members and prominent among Ethiopia's social media circle, Habtamu Ayalew and Daniel Shibeshi of UDJ/Andinet, and Yeshewas Assefa of Blue party, to the court but was given the 28 days in their absence.

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