The acquittal of three bloggers by an Ethiopian court after 539 days in detention must not be dressed up as a victory for freedom of expression, said Amnesty International today.
Natnael Feleke, Atnaf Berhane and Abel Wabela, who were tried on terrorism charges, were acquitted by the federal court today in Addis Ababa but have yet to be released. The fourth, Befeqadu Hailu, was also acquitted of terrorism charges but trial hearings on an incitement charge will continue. A fifth blogger, Soliyana Gebremichael, in exile in the USA, was also acquitted.
“The imminent release of three bloggers must not be dressed up as a victory for freedom of expression in Ethiopia. It is shameful that the Ethiopian authorities arrested them in the first place, subjected them to a sham judicial process and incarcerated them for nearly a year and a half,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“This is an authoritarian government which continues to repress freedom of expression and crush dissent at every turn. If it is serious about putting right the wrongs of the past, it must immediately release the scores of other journalists, political opposition leaders, and protesters who have been arbitrarily detained or wrongfully imprisoned simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”
The bloggers are all members of the Zone 9 collective, which has repeatedly criticised the government. Today was the 39th time the four prisoners of conscience appeared in court for a hearing since their arrest in a government crackdown in April 2014.
The Ethiopian government introduced the Anti-Terror Proclamation in 2009. It has repeatedly used this law, along with lengthy trial delays, to intimidate and silence its critics.