(Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: May 9, 2014) Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA) expressed concern over the continued confinement of three Ethiopian journalists and six bloggers who were arrested in April over allegations of instigating public disobedience.
The journalists were arraigned in court on May 7 while the bloggers were brought to court on May 8 in Addis Ababa but were not charged, according to their lawyers. Instead, the police requested the court to give them 10 more days to further investigate the alleged crimes, a request the court granted.
The court session was a closed affair, making it difficult for journalists and other journalist advocacy groups to attend and monitor the proceedings.
The police say they have evidence that the defendants had finalized preparations to incite public disobedience and that they had been trained by other interest groups for the mission.
“EAJA is deeply concerned by the continued detention of the journalists and bloggers and the request for more time for further investigations. This situation clearly violates the rights of those detained and we once again all on the Ethiopian Authorities to immediately release them unconditionally,” said EAJA Secretary General Alexandre Niyungeko.
EAJA’s local affiliate, Ethiopia National Journalists Union (ENJU) called for an official government statement on the arrests and continued detention of the journalists adding that if there were any charges, then the trail should be speeded up to accord the detained journalists and bloggers justice.
“We urge the government to speed up the court cases and to also give an official statement to explain reasons and justification for the arrest of the journalists and the bloggers,” said the ENJU President Anteneh Abraham.
Abraham said ENJU and a team of lawyers were following up the cases with a view to ensuring that the law was followed and those detained were accorded justice.
The three journalists and six bloggers were arrested on 25 and 26 April, and detained by the authorities following a an arrest warrant from a public prosecutor over accusations of using social media to destabilize the country and for collaborating with international human rights organizations.
The journalists being detained include Tesfalem Waldyes, who writes for the Ethiopia’s Addis Standard magazine and weekly Addis Fortune newspaper, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, senior editor at an influential Amharic weekly magazine Addis Guday, and Edom Kassaye, who previously worked at state daily Addis Zemen Newspaper and is an active member of the Ethiopian Environmental Journalists Association (EEJA).
The arrested bloggers include Atnaf Berahane, Befeqadu Hailu, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnael Feleke, Abel Wabela and Zelalem Kiberet who are reportedly members of the Zone 9 group. The group is known to be critical of government policy, and have a large following on social media.
The bloggers have reportedly named their group, “Zone 9” to indicate that Addis Ababa is the 9th section of a local prison located at Kality area, which has 8 Zones.
The arrests appear to have been triggered by an April 23 on Facebook posting by the bloggers in which they indicated they would resume publishing after seven months of inactivity.
There has been an increasing crackdown on journalists and civil society groups since 2009 by Ethiopian authorities following the passage of the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation which gave the government sweeping powers to arrest those it deemed seditious, including journalists.
Scores of journalists have been convicted under the provisions of the country’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism law. They include Solomon Kebede, Wubset Taye, Reeyot Alemu, Eskinder Nega, Yusuf Getachew, and recently Somali reporter Mohamed Aweys Mudey.
Eskinder Nega is serving an 18 year jail term; Wubshet Taye is serving 14 years while Reeyot Alemu is serving a five-year prison sentence. Somali journalist Mohamed Aweys Mudey was also sentenced to 27 years in prison.
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