Ethiopian Court Charges Bloggers, Journalists With Terrorism

Six Ethiopian bloggers and three journalists were charged with planning attacks in the East African country in partnership with a banned U.S.-based opposition group, a judge said.

The members of the Zone 9 blogging group and reporters are accused under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law of working with Ginbot 7, which is classified as a terrorist group by the government, Judge Tarekegn Amare told the Federal High Court today in the capital, Addis Ababa. The defendants, who were arrested in April, received funding and training in explosives from abroad, he said.

“The prosecutors didn’t actually mention any specific act which it claimed that they planned to do,” defense lawyer Ameha Mekonnen told reporters after the hearing. “They simply said that they planned, organized themselves and conspired, things like that.”

Donors such as the U.S. and the United Nations have said that Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law is used to criminalize legitimate dissent from journalists and opposition politicians.

Award-winning writer Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2012, while two Swedish journalists who traveled with with a rebel group were accused of supporting the insurgents and convicted under the law in 2011.

Anyone prosecuted under the anti-terrorism law is part of a network that begins in Eritrea, Ethiopia’s regional enemy, and reaches Somalia, Kenya and South Sudan, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told reporters today.

Banned Organization

“When you put yourself into this network and you try to be a blogger, don’t think you are going to escape from the Ethiopian government,” he said in the capital. “I don’t think becoming a blogger makes anyone immune if somebody involves into this terrorist network that destabilizes my country.”

The Oromo Liberation Front, a banned organization fighting for more autonomy for Ethiopia’s Oromo people, was mentioned in the charges once, Ameha said.

The charges didn’t appear “professionally done” and the defendants, who are all in their 20s and 30s, accused the authorities of forcing them to sign confessions in previous hearings, he said. “They were forced to sign statements that they did not write,” Ameha said.

Similar allegations have been made in previous terrorism cases and are false, State Minister of Communications Shimeles Kemal said by phone from Addis Ababa. “There is nothing whatsoever to substantiate these allegations,” he said.

Next Hearing

A seventh member of the Zone 9 group, Soliana Shimelis, coordinated foreign relations and was charged in absentia, Addis Standard magazine said on its website. The defense will make an initial response to the charges, which were mainly under Article 4 of the law regarding planning acts of terrorism, at the next hearing on August 4, Ameha said.

Ginbot 7 was formed after a disputed 2005 election by former leaders of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy. The group considers Ethiopia’s government a dictatorship and says “all means necessary” are justified to depose it.

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