Update: More good news this morning as two more of the Zone 9 bloggers—Mahlet Fantahun and Edom Kassaye—were released along with Reeyot Alemu, an Ethiopian journalist who was jailed in June 2011 on terrorism charges. However Befeqadu Hailu, Natnael Feleke, Atnaf Berahane and Abel Wabela remain in prison. We will continue to provide updates on this story and advocate for their release.
Nine bloggers and journalists belonging to the Zone 9 collective were arrested in April 2014 and charged with terrorism for dubious offenses including “working with foreign organizations that claim to be human rights activists” and “inciting public disorder via social media”. In reality, the blogging collective worked to foster political debate and discussion, educating Ethiopian citizens on the constitution and seeking to promote human rights in the country.
We are delighted to report that after over a year behind bars, three of these Zone 9 bloggers were released from prison and cleared from all charges.
The freeing of Tesfalem Waldyes, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis and Zelalem Kiberet is heartening. Supporters have suggested that the release of the bloggers is tied to the upcoming visit to Ethiopia by Barack Obama. If true, that means that the bloggers' release is strongly tied to the hard work by the many individuals and organizations who have supported and publicized their cause outside Ethiopia, including Zone 9 member Endalkchew Chala and the Global Voices community to which several of the bloggers belong. Global Voices Advocacy Director Ellery Biddle gave more details on the release:
Tesfalem told the Addis Standard that this morning he heard his name called over the loudspeaker system of Kilinto Prison, where the writers have been held for over a year. A prison official called the names of Zelalem and Asmamaw, stating that all charges against them had been dropped. They were released just hours later.
The #FreeZone9Bloggers hashtag lit up on Twitter shortly after the news was confirmed by friends who greeted the newly freed men at Kilinto Prison.
Alongside an outpouring of joy and disbelief at the news of the bloggers’ release, many on social media urged supporters to take caution in their celebration. On Facebook, Simegnish Yekoye Or Lily wrote "As much as we are happy and celebrating the release of our colleagues and friends Tesfalem, Asmamaw and Zelalem, and wait for release of Edom and Mahlet tomorrow … we still need to push for the charges against the remaining bloggers Befekadu, Abel, Atinaf and Nati to be dropped. They are only bloggers and not terrorists."
There is indeed hard work still to be done while six more Zone 9 bloggers remain in jail, their fates still uncertain. We continue to call on the Ethiopian government to free the Zone 9 bloggers.