Freedom for the Remaining Zone 9 Bloggers
The last of Ethiopia’s Zone 9 Bloggers has been released from jail, after nearly 18 months, based on charges of terrorism.
All six of the bloggers have now been cleared of the terrorism charges against them, leaving only one charge of inciting violence against Befeqadu Hailu, who was released on Wednesday. Hailu confessed to the crime while in detention but isn’t expected to return to jail after being released on bail, due to his time already served.
A silenced voice
The Zone 9 Bloggers, whose motto is “We Blog Because We Care,” is a group of writers who speak out about human rights abuses, violations of law, corruption and other actions by state and non-state bodies, detrimental to the people of Ethiopia.
Six members of the group and three journalists were collectively arrested and charged with terrorism on July 18. They were deemed to have links with an outlawed group and suspected of planning attacks with knowledge gained from digital security training.
Terrorism charges against bloggers and journalists in Ethiopia are becoming more common, as the use of standard tools like encryption technology is deemed a security threat.
Public, international outcry
The Zone 9 Bloggers case sparked widespread criticism, both from within Ethiopia and international bodies. Allies to the nation, including the United States, criticised the charges brought against the writers. However, because Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism laws are based upon the same structure as the US and many European nations, the impact of international voices is limited.
In the Zone 9 Bloggers case, one of the key pieces of evidence against the writers was their use of encryption to protect their sources. This can be considered as evidence of terrorist activity under Ethiopian law, however the UN, OSCE and United States insist encryption and secure communication are fundamental to free expression.
Each of the detained bloggers was facing up to 10 years in prison if they were found guilty of the charges against them.