Tomorrow, April 25, marks one year since Ethiopia arrested six Zone 9 bloggers and three other journalists. These nine individuals—Befekadu Hailu, Zelalem Kibret, Atnaf Berhane, Natnael Feleke, Mahlet Fantahun, Abel Wabella, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, Edom Kassaye, and Tesfalem Waldeyes—joined 10 other journalists already imprisoned in Ethiopia, bringing the total number of jailed journalists in Ethiopia to 19, including two Eritrean nationals. This is more than any other country in Africa. In July 2014, Ethiopian authorities charged the six bloggers and three journalists with terrorism under its Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Their trial is ongoing. Ethiopia also charged one other Zone 9 blogger—Soliyana Shimelis—who was out of the country when her colleagues were arrested, with terrorism, in absentia. Soliyana has been unable to return to Ethiopia and, along with dozens of other Ethiopian journalists, now lives in exile.
Restrictions on press freedoms are inconsistent with the rights outlined in the Ethiopian constitution. Space for media, civil society organizations, and independent voices and views are crucial for democratic progress, development, and economic growth. While we recognize a judicial process is underway, we urge the Ethiopian Government to release journalists and other individuals imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, particularly those imprisoned who may merit humanitarian release on medical grounds. We urge Ethiopia to refrain from using its Anti-Terrorism Proclamation as a mechanism to curb the free exchange of ideas