Ethiopia: Activist Blogger Sentence to More Than 5 Years in Jail
An Ethiopian blogger and activist has been sentenced to more than five years in prison after a lengthy and controversial court case.
The vocal activist is one of many journalists and bloggers to have been targeted by Ethiopia’s anti-terror laws and accused of being involved in the Ginbot 7 terrorist group. He is expected to appeal the decision.
Almost two years detained
Zelalem Workagegnehu, 32, was initially charged with multiple offences in October 2014. Since then he has spent almost two years in detention before being sentenced to five years and four months in jail on May 10.
He was finishing his Masters Degree in Public Administration at the Addis Abeba University when he was arrested and detained with nine others, including opposition politicians, netizens and activists.
His detention and subsequent charges captured the attention of rights group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other organisations. Many of those detained have spoken of torture and ethnic discrimination in prison, forcing prisoners to confess.
Ethiopia among worst countries for press freedom
Ethiopia is among the worst countries in the world for press freedom. China and Egypt have the highest counts of journalists in jail and Eritrea also has more than Ethiopia, which currently has 10 journalists serving prison sentences.
However, that doesn’t account for those who are detained and eventually freed, including the Zone 9 Bloggers – the last of whom was cleared of terrorism charges and released after being detained for more than a year.
Ethiopia’s terrorist laws are used to charge journalists with threatening national security, inciting violence and various other charges that come with lengthy prison sentences. Even if the charges are dropped, suspects can spend years in detention before being released and the conditions reported are severely poor.
The intimidation tactics employed by the Ethiopian government have rendered private media almost extinct and those who speak out risk their freedom.