Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ethiopian court adjourns trial for imprisoned Ethiopian bloggers and journalists

Decision marks tenth time trial for the Zone 9 writers has been adjourned

VIENNA, Oct 15, 2014 - Three journalists and six bloggers jailed in Ethiopia since April under allegations of terrorism and related activities faced the 10th delay in their case today, as the trial was adjourned until Nov. 4.

The International Press Institute (IPI) previously reported the journalists and bloggers were arrested in Addis Ababa between April 25 and 26 for allegedly working with foreign human rights groups and using social networking tools to ‘incite violence.’ IPI condemned the arrests at the time, and has followed developments in the case.

Zone 9 blogger and human rights activist Jomanex Kasaye told IPI today via email that blogger Mahilet Fantahu and journalist Edom Kassaye complained at today’s public hearing about conditions inside Kality prison, where they are currently being held. Fantahu and Kassaye told the court that they are allowed very few visitors, and that those visitors admitted have been subjected to mistreatment by guards, according to Jomanex. He also told IPI the two writers have been labelled as ‘terrorists’ inside the prison. A hearing to address the mistreatment allegations is scheduled for Oct 21.

Jomanex, a Zone 9 blogger who managed to escape to Sweden without being arrested, commented on today’s hearing, “The goverment officials, including the Prime Minister, say we are ‘terrorists’, even not ‘suspected terrorists’. They arrested our friends then fabricated evidences and tortured them to sign a confession for a crime they didn’t commit. It’s absurd to demand justice with this process. They shouldn't have been arrested in the first place. The justice system and police are not independent. They are simple tools to silence dissent.”

Martin Schibbye, a strong advocate for press freedom in Ethiopia told IPI, “The arrest and trial against the Zone 9 bloggers can be seen as a start of the [2015 general] election campaign in Ethiopia. It is flashing alarm to the world that no one is safe, that there is a hunting season for journalists in Addis Ababa. But despite this difficult situation there is light,” the Swedish journalist and IPI member continued, “The courage among the bloggers has turned out to be contagious; a new generation is stepping up. Writing, tweeting, speaking truth to power, demanding the jailed to be released. It is hopeful.”

After being arrested in July 2011 for allegedly entering the country’s Ogaden region illegally and in the company of members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, Schibbye was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment. He was pardoned and released on Sept. 10, 2012.

While talking to IPI today, he also stated, “Following the hashtag #freezone9ers during the day shows that regimes can jail journalists but they can never succeed in jailing journalism.”