Four Ethiopian bloggers were acquitted of terrorism charges this morning after spending 539 days in prison.
In April 2014 six bloggers of the Zone 9 website were arrested by Ethiopian authorities with three other journalists on allegations of terrorism under the Anti-Terror Proclamation. The Ethiopian government claimed the group planned attacks, incited violence, and attended a training session on digital security.
Two of the bloggers were released in July of this year after charges against them were dropped. Another blogger, Soleyana Gebremichael, who lives in exile was also acquitted of all charges from the Ethiopian government.
One journalist, Tesfalem Waldyes, came back to Addis Ababa to hear the court verdict. Waldyes told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that “This whole thing [court case alleging terrorism] is absurd.”
“They spent a year and six months in prison for doing nothing, we spent a year and three months [in prison] for nothing,” Waldyes added.
One reason for the bloggers release was the backlash from many citizens through social media campaigns using the hashtag #FreeZone9Bloggers.
Thousands of people joined in with tweets. Rights groups also stood up in order to condemn the court case which attacked the freedom of the press.
The issue of press repressions is not new in Ethiopia. Since 2010, at least 60 Ethiopian journalists have fled the country. The government has also shut down dozens of publications, television, and radio outlets by utilizing the Anti-Terror Proclamation they introduced, as well as trial delays to silence all those who critique the government.
Jeff Smith, the Africa Specialist for the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, told a SaharaReporters correspondent that “this is a great day for political freedom.”
He added that “we should rightly celebrate, but keep our eyes on the bigger picture because there are still significant challenges and tactics used to criminalize journalists who critique the [Ethiopian] government.”