Ethiopia Supreme Court says two Zone 9 bloggers should face incitement charges


New York, April 6, 2017–Ethiopia’s Supreme Court today ruled that two bloggers from the Zone 9 collective, previously acquitted of terrorism charges, should be tried instead on charges of inciting violence through their writing. If convicted of the charge, Atnaf Berhane and Natnail Feleke would face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, according to the Addis Standard newspaper.

The court upheld the lower court’s acquittal of two other Zone 9 bloggers, Soleyana S Gebremichael and Abel Wabella. Today’s actions by the Supreme Court were a response to prosecutors’ appeal of the October 2015 acquittal of all four.

“We urge Ethiopian authorities to do the right thing and drop any further prosecution of Atnaf Behane and Natnail Feleke on charges relating to their work,” said Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal. “Today’s acquittal of two Zone 9 bloggers is a positive step, but there can be no celebration until this exhibition of legal harassment ends once and for all.”

Ethiopia ranked fourth on CPJ’s 2015 list of the 10 Most Censored Countries and is the fifth worst jailer of journalists worldwide, according to CPJ’s 2016 prison census. CPJ awarded Zone 9 an International Press Freedom Award in 2015.

Ethiopia Zone 9 bloggers charged with terrorism


Zone 9’s website has carried pieces critical of the government

Nine Ethiopian journalists and bloggers held in detention since April have been charged with terrorism by a court in the capital, Addis Ababa.

They deny receiving financial aid and instructions from terrorists groups to destabilise the country.

New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the government was trying to stifle opposition and media freedom in the country.

They all belonged to the social media activist group Zone 9.

Correspondents say Ethiopia has increasingly faced criticism from donors and human rights groups for jailing its critics – many of whom have sought asylum abroad in fear of being arrested and tortured in jail.

‘Explosives training’
Zone 9 website header

“Start Quote

Expressing critical views is not a terrorist act”

Tom RhodesCPJ representative

The three journalists and six bloggers have become known as the Zone 9 bloggers.

They are accused of working in collusion with the banned US-based opposition group Ginbot 7.

“They took training in how to make explosives and planned to train others,” the AFP news agency quotes Judge Tareke Alemayehu saying.

The CPJ called on the authorities for the group’s immediate release, saying they had been doing their jobs.

“Expressing critical views is not a terrorist act. Once again, the Ethiopian government is misusing anti-terrorism legislation to suppress political dissent and intimidate journalists,” Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s East Africa representative, said in a statement.


Zone 9 bloggers

  • Journalists: Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, Tesfalem Waldyes and Edom Kassaye
  • Bloggers: Abel Wabella, Atnaf Berhane, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnail Feleke, Zelalem Kibret, and Befekadu Hailu
  • Detained: On 25 and 26 April, held for more than 80 days without being charged
  • Charges: Terrorism for having links to an outlawed group and for planning attacks
  • Motto: “We blog because we care”

The lawyer for some of the accused said the charges had no “credible substance”, AFP reports.

Zone 9’s website, which often has pieces that are critical of the government, has the strap line “we blog, because we care”.

Last month, one of the leaders of Ginbot 7 facing the death penalty was controversially extradited from Yemen to Ethiopia.

Andargachew Tsege was sentenced to death in absentia in 2009 for plotting a coup.

In an interview with the BBC last week, Ethiopia’s prime minister denied that the authorities were being heavy handed in applying anti-terror laws which came into force five years ago.

Ethiopian leader Hailemariam Desalegn: “If you have any connection with terrorists don’t think that the Ethiopian government will let you [go] free”

But Hailemariam Desalegn warned that those found to be linked to “terrorist groups” would be dealt with.

“If you have any connection with terrorists don’t think that the Ethiopian government will let you [go] free,” he said.

Two years ago, prominent Ethiopian journalist and blogger Eskinder Negawas sentenced to 18 years in jail for having links with Ginbot 7.