International Press Freedom Awards Zone 9 Bloggers.

September 15th, 2015 Print Print Email Email

In April 2014, Ethiopian authorities arrested six bloggers affiliated with the Zone 9 collective. The bloggers–Abel Wabella, Atnaf Berhane, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnail Feleke, Zelalem Kibret, and Befekadu Hailu–were charged with terrorism.

The Zone 9 blogging collective was formed in May 2012 in response to the evisceration of the independent press and the narrowing of space for free expression. The name, “Zone 9,” is derived from the zones in Kality Prison, the main jail where Ethiopia’s political prisoners, including several journalists, are held. While Kality Prison is organized into eight different zones, the bloggers refer to the entire country as “Zone 9” because of Ethiopia’s lack of democratic freedoms, one of the bloggers told CPJ.

The collective is made up of nine bloggers–the six named above, and Soleyana S Gebremichael, Endalk Chala, and Jomanex Kasaye, all of whom are in exile. Soleyana has been charged in absentia.

In July 2015, weeks before U.S. President Barack Obama visited the country, Ethiopian authorities released Mahlet and Zelalem.

The Zone 9 bloggers were arrested along with three other journalists–editor Asmamaw Hailegeorgis and freelancers Tesfalem Waldyes and Edom Kassaye, who were later released. The initial charges against the group included working with international human rights organizations and taking part in email encryption and digital security training. The group was subsequently charged with terrorism.

Since 2009, when Ethiopia’s anti-terror law was implemented, the government has used the sweeping legislation to imprison more than a dozen critical journalists, according to CPJ research. In 2012, blogger Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in prison and Woubshet Taye to 14 years, both on terrorism charges. CPJ’s 2014 prison census found that Ethiopia was the fourth worst jailer of journalists in the world, with at least 17 journalists behind bars. Ethiopia also ranked fourth on CPJ’s 2015 list of the 10 Most Censored Countries.

With the motto “We Blog Because We Care,” the Zone 9 collective has voiced concerns over domestic issues, including political repression, corruption, and social injustice. The collective’s posts were frequently blocked inside Ethiopia, but gained a following with Ethiopians in the diaspora, according to local reports. Their posts on Facebook solicited some 12,000 responses a week, reaching 200,000 during a four-part “campaign” they ran on Facebook.

By awarding the Zone 9 bloggers with its International Press Freedom Award, CPJ recognizes the important role that bloggers play in environments where traditional media are weak or have been all but shuttered by financial hardship and direct or indirect state attacks.

Country facts:

Ethiopia released at least six journalists from prison in 2015, but is still holding around a dozen journalists in jail in relation to their work.
In May 2015, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won 100 percent of the vote.
In 2014, at least eight independent publications were shut down, according to CPJ research.
Between 2013 and 2014, in response to the continued government crackdown on the media, more than 40 journalists fled into exile from Ethiopia.

  1. ብንያም አለማየሁ
    | #1

    Tigrai State government announces names and positions of new state officials on September 25, 2015
    People were forced to pay bribes to the authorities just to live or work in the developed District 1 Tigrai The bloggers exposed that and we need to continue to expose the corruption so the government feels like whether they imprison the bloggers or not the corrution is going to get exposed.

    Tigrai authorities same as the Mafia were demanding to get paid regular protection money to businesses
    operate their businesses safely or send their kids to school . The corruption in Tigrai is so severe .

    For Tips-off

    +251115527781 / +251115527774 / +251115529100(Ex 232)

    Starting September 2015. H.E. Mr. Abay Woldu remains president of Tigrai State and H.E. Ambassador Dr. AddisAlem Balema becomes the vice president. Ms. Kidusan Nega is the Speaker of the House.
    Twenty two men and seven women make up the list of government officials.
    We hope the new government will do its level best to address the tough issues of corruption, water shortage, good governance and unemployment.
    There is some resentment the state of Tigrai is not up to par with other Ethiopian states for different reasons. One of the reasons people say is the more educated experienced and dedicated sons and daughters of the state; such as Dr. Arkebe Enkoy, Dr. Debretsion Geberemichael, and Dr. Tedros Adhanom are serving in the federal government instead of the state of Tigrai which needs them badly.

    As long as the overall policy is fair and just and government officials follow through things will get done. Some problems arise because the execution of policies at the grass root level is messed up and the high government officials don’t care to check or they are not aware of what is going on.
    The first responsibility of a public servant is to the public not himself or herself. A self serving politician is not a public servant, but a greedy business person.
    We should judge our politicians and government officials not by the eloquent speeches they give, but by the actions they take to serve the public.
    We wish all the new and returning government officials good luck and remind them to take their public duties very seriously.

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