Nine bloggers and journalists, four of them Global Voices members, were charged with terrorism and related activities before Ethiopia’s Lideta High Court yesterday. Arrested and detained in Addis Ababa on April 25 and 26, they since have been behind bars on informal accusations of “working with foreign organizations that claim to be human rights activists and…receiving finance to incite public violence through social media.”
The defendants’ attorneys and families were not given prior notice about the hearing, and they thus had no legal representation present when the charges were issued.
The Zone9 Trial Tracker blog, run by sources close to the defendants, reported that the charges included working with organizations branded as “terrorist” by the Ethiopian government; participating in an email encryption training; and “underground organization.”
The bloggers’ attorney told AFP that the charges have no “credible substance.” Supporters around the world expressed outrage over the charges on Twitter, under the #FreeZone9Bloggers hashtag. Yoseph Mulugeta, a former Human Rights Watch representative in Ethiopia who has been following the case closely, tweeted:
19page fabricated charges but no mention of Zone9 by name.Not even once.The brand surely terrifies enemies of free speech #FreeZone9Bloggers
— Yoseph Mulugeta (@YosephMulugeta) July 18, 2014
Enacted in 2009, Ethiopia’s controversial anti-terrorism law is unfortunately familiar for political journalists in the country. Journalists Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu faced the same charge and have been held in Addis Ababa’s Kalaity prison since 2011. Prosecutors reportedly issued the charge based on accusations that the bloggers had received training and financial support from two Ethiopian political groups based in Europe and the US. Trial Tracker notes that the two groups are ideologically dissimilar.
According to news reports, the bloggers and journalists were also accused of organizing themselves clandestinely as the Zone9 blogging collective, a puzzling charge, given the public nature of the Zone9 blog and activities undertaken by the group.
The group has been given a trial date of August 8. Visit the Trial Tracker Blog for updates on the case and to learn how your can support the Zone9ers.