Netizen Report: As Protests Rage in Ethiopia, Zone9 Bloggers Return to Court

Eth-ZONE9_BLOGGERS_01-6The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

As protests rage over land rights and ethnic discrimination, bloggers and independent journalists in Ethiopia appear to be losing ground in their struggle to exercise free expression. Alongside other recent arrests, four members of the Zone9 bloggers collective, who spent 18 months in prison on terrorism-related charges from 2014-2015, returned to court on October 21 following an appeal by the public prosecutor. Their case was adjourned yet again, with a new court date scheduled for November 15.

The Addis Ababa-based blogging collective, six of whom are Global Voices contributors, had worked to foster political debate and discussion in the face of a near-monopoly that the state holds over media outlets.

Charged under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation with “inciting public disorder via social media” and “receiving support from a foreign government,” the bloggers appeared in court 38 times from July 2014 to October 2015, only to be adjourned each time at the behest of the prosecution, which sought more time to investigate their case. Some members were released without explanation shortly before Barack Obama’s July 2015 visit to the country. The rest were “acquitted” in October of that year, though they were never invited to testify before a jury. And now, a year later, the four members of the group—Abel Wabela, Atnaf Berahane, Natnael Feleke and Befeqadu Hailu—are returning to court once again.

With the country in an official “state of emergency,” social media sites are intermittently blocked or banned from use and mobile Internet connections are periodically cut, the need for independent media reporting from inside the country feels ever-more vital — and increasingly under threat.

Source: globalvoices

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