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Tuesday, May 16, 2017
PUBLISHED: 12:39 BST, 16 May 2017 | UPDATED: 12:39 BST, 16 May 2017
A judge in Ethiopia's capital on Tuesday found a former opposition spokesman guilty of encouraging terrorism with a series of anti-government Facebook posts.
Yonatan Tesfaye was arrested in December 2015 after writing on the social media platform that the government had used "force against the people instead of using peaceful discussion with the public."
While Yonatan's lawyer and defence witnesses argued the former spokesman of the opposition Blue Party was exercising his right to free speech, judge Belayhun Awol ruled the comments "exceeded freedom of expression" and amounted to encouraging terrorism.
"I think the government's intent and what it seeks is this: to restrict others from speaking freely," Yonatan's lawyer Shebru Belete Birru told AFP after the verdict.
The guilty verdict for "encouragement of terrorism" means Yonatan faces a possible sentence of between 10 and 20 years under the country's anti-terrorism laws, which have been criticised by rights groups and Ethiopia's allies, such as the United States, for being used to stifle dissent.
Yonatan's comments came shortly after protesters belonging to the country's largest ethnic group, the Oromos, took to the streets in towns outside the capital Addis Ababa, claiming a plan to expand the city's boundaries into their region amounted to a land-grab.
The protests led Ethiopia's government to declare a state of emergency last October, which was extended for another four months in March.
Yonatan was originally charged with being a member of the banned separatist Oromo Liberation Front, but prosecutors changed the charges against him last year.
Shebru said he plans to appeal the verdict.
Saturday, April 8, 2017
Ethiopia Supreme Court says two Zone 9 bloggers should face incitement charges - Committee to Protect Journalists
Ethiopia Supreme Court says two Zone 9 bloggers should face incitement charges - Committee to Protect Journalists: "Ethiopia Supreme Court says two Zone 9 bloggers should face incitement charges Text Size Print Share Members of the Zone 9 blogging group. (Endalkachew H/Michael) New York, April 6, 2017--Ethiopia's Supreme Court today ruled that two bloggers from the Zone 9 collective, previously acquitted of terrorism charges, should be tried instead on charges of inciting violence through their writing. If convicted of the charge, Atnaf Berhane and Natnail Feleke would face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, according to the Addis Standard newspaper. The court upheld the lower court's acquittal of two other Zone 9 bloggers, Soleyana S Gebremichael and Abel Wabella. Today's actions by the Supreme Court were a response to prosecutors' appeal of the October 2015 acquittal of all four. "We urge Ethiopian authorities to do the right thing and drop any further prosecution of Atnaf Behane and Natnail Feleke on charges relating to their work," said Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal. "Today's acquittal of two Zone 9 bloggers is a positive step, but there can be no celebration until this exhibition of legal harassment ends once and for all." Ethiopia ranked fourth on CPJ's 2015 list of the 10 Most Censored Countries and is the fifth worst jailer of journalists worldwide, according to CPJ's 2016 prison census. CPJ awarded Zone 9 an International Press Freedom Award in 2015. For more data and analysis on Ethiopia, visit CPJ's Ethiopia page."
'via Blog this'
'via Blog this'
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Bezawit Hailegiorgis, wife of the detained blogger and journalist Anania Sorri. Photograph: Jason Burke for the Guardian"Bezawit Hailegiorgis says western powers could help free Anania Sorri, one of tens of thousands held in Ethiopia since last year Bezawit Hailegiorgis, wife of the detained blogger and journalist Anania Sorri. Photograph: Jason Burke for the Guardian View more sharing options Shares 1,188 Jason Burke in Addis Ababa Monday 27 February 2017 06.00 GMT The wife of a blogger and journalist detained in Ethiopia has called on the international community to pressure local authorities to release her husband, who is among tens of thousands held since a state of emergency was declared in the emerging east African power last year. Anania Sorri, a 34-year-old writer and intellectual, was arrested in November on his way to a meeting at the US embassy in Addis Ababa. He is being held in a high security prison in the Ethiopian capital and has not yet been formally charged with any offence. Bezawit Hailegiorgis, 29, his wife, said his sole crime had been “to express his thoughts honestly”. “His crime is his determination to speak out. He is a brilliant political journalist. He was critical but always constructive … but being imprisoned is part of the job description of being a journalist here. It’s a zero-sum game, where someone has to lose, and at the moment they are not losing,” she told the Guardian."
Human rights groups have criticised the failure of western powers to condemn Ethiopia’s recent crackdown, which followed a new wave of protests against the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition.
The US and UK see Ethiopia as a key stabilising actor in east Africa and rarely criticise authorities there. Addis Ababa has long been viewed by both as an important partner in the fight against Islamic militancy in the volatile region. The EU increasingly sees Ethiopia as an important part of the European effort to reduce the flow of migrants from east Africa.
Hailegiorgis said international pressure on the government would prove effective in her husband’s case. “I love my country … and I do understand that this is a sovereign country, but we all live in one system and the UK, the US and others do have leverage. Of course pressure would work,” she said.
Hundreds of people are thought to have been killed and tens of thousands detained in Ethiopia over the last year, though exact figures are unavailable. Opposition groups, mostly based abroad, say the figure is much higher. The government recently said it had released 11,000 detainees.
Scores of senior opposition politicians have been arrested and jailed, as well as bloggers and commentators such as Sorri.
The unrest has been most intense in areas dominated by the Oromo ethnic group, which comprises around 40% of the population. There have also been demonstrations and clashes in parts of Ethiopia dominated by the Amhara ethnicity, which analysts say indicate a deep-rooted discontent with decades of rule by the EPRDF.
The overall situation appears to have calmed since an upsurge in protest and associated violence in November, though some areas remain tense.
Ethiopia ranks 142nd out of 180 countries for press freedom, according to the Reporters Without Borders campaign group.
Diplomats in Addis Ababa described a “gulf between the outside perception of Ethiopia and what is happening inside the country”, branding the repressive atmosphere a “climate of fear”.
Although restrictions on the internet and social media have been eased, there has been little significant let up in the repressive security measures.
Hailegiorgis said she recognised she was taking a risk by talking to international media, as others have been detained for doing so.
She said her husband had been arrested without warning under special powers introduced with a state of emergency in October and was unsure of exactly what offence he was suspected of committing. He has not been allowed legal representation, has been denied books or newspapers, and is being held in a cell with around 40 others. Hailegiorgis is allowed to visit him when she wants, with their three-year-old daughter, and to provide her husband with food and medication.
“Anywhere else he would win prizes and acclaim. He was not a criminal, not involved in politics, and not violent. Here, he goes to jail,” Hailegorgis said.
The EPRDF, which has been in power for 25 years, has been praised for bringing millions of Ethiopians out of poverty and ensuring growth rates that have averaged around 10% for more than a decade.
However, corruption and unequal distribution of the new wealth, coupled with a young and increasingly educated population, have meant growing discontent.
The unrest has been described by some analysts as “a political crisis” for a state that has increasingly followed an “authoritarian Chinese-style development model”. Ethiopia has built commercial and other ties with Beijing in recent years.
The prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who took over following the death of the veteran leader Meles Zenawi in 2012, has promised political reforms and reshuffled his cabinet in November in an apparent effort to be more inclusive. He has also launched a huge programme of spending aimed at improving the lot of young people. The median age in Ethiopia is 18 and a vast expansion of further education has led to enormous demand for graduate jobs, which the country is struggling to meet.
Many among the Oromo minority frame social and economic problems in ethnic terms. They say the government is dominated by Tigrayans, who comprise only 6% of Ethiopia’s 100 million inhabitants.
“The unrest and protests are rooted in decades of marginalisation and exploitation … if there is no democratic way of protesting, then there will be violence. That is inevitable,” said a 42-year-old Oromo activist in Addis Ababa who did not want to be named.
In an interview with the Guardian, Negeri Lencho, the communications minister, said journalists who had been jailed had either not “respected the ethics of the profession” or were not actually journalists at all.
“Ethiopia is facing challenges – political, economic, social – and journalists should understand the problems we face today and should provide the right sort of information our people need,” Lencho said.
“All members of the cabinet and the prime minister … all want to see a vibrant media … but a journalist has a purpose, if he is a real journalist, to reach out with the right information, not just his own opinion, be it hate or love.”
Hailegiorgis said pressure from the west could help obtain freedom for her husband.
“The international community is not doing anything at all. It’s a bizarre thing. It’s just lip service, just words. They say they are ‘highly concerned’ or ‘concerned’ but then … nothing,” said Hailegiorgis.