Ethiopia drops charges against 2 bloggers, 3 journalists

Ethiopian prosecutors released today two bloggers and three journalists after sixteen months incarceration.

The individuals were among the bloggers and journos detained in the last weekend of April 2014. The bloggers belong to the Zone 9 blogging collective.

Prosecutors dropped the charges in a letter sent a letter to the Federal High Court yesterday, according to the quasi-official media Fana.

The two bloggers released today are Zelalem Kibret and Mahlet Fantahun who were employed as lecturer and Data Officer, respectively, until their detention.Photo - Edom Kassaye and Mahlet Fantahun

Tesfalem Weldeyes, a reporter at Addis Standard, Edom Kassaye, a freelance reporter and Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, editor of the now-defunct Amharic weekly Addis Guday are the journalists released today.

The bloggers and journalists were charged under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law  for allegedly working with the Ginbot 7, a group classified as a terrorist group by the Ethiopian parliament and IGAD. They were charged with incitement and terrorism.

Nonetheless, their lawyer says: “No witness is brought who has either direct or indirect knowledge of the material element of the charge”.

The abrupt release happened after the Court has finished hearing evidences and was due to deliver a guilty-not-guilty verdict next week.

The case of the rest five still in detention, Befekadu Hailu, Natnail Feleke, Atnaf Berhane, Abel Wabella and Soliyana Shimeles, who is charged in absentia, is expected to proceed.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has today released a statement saying that: “The release of these five journalists is a welcome turn of events in Ethiopia, where the number of journalists in prison has steadily increased in recent years. We call on authorities to release the remaining Zone 9 bloggers and all journalists”.

The social media is abuzz with the news with many connecting the release with the upcoming historic visit of U.S. President Obama. The president was receiving bad press for his decision based on Ethiopia’s human rights record.

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Fetsum Berhane

Fetsum Berhane is an Ethiopian resident, economist researcher and a blogger on HornAffairs.

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