July 20, 2014 (NAIROBI) – International condemnation mounts against Ethiopia following a Federal High Court’s decision on Friday to press charges against a group of nine Ethiopian bloggers and journalists.
The bloggers who are members of a social media activist group known as Zone 9 were arrested late in April for alleged links with an outlawed group and planning to carry out terrorist attacks to destabilize nation.
The reporters had been accused of receiving financial and logistical support from a US-based Ethiopian opposition movement, Ginbot 7, a group labelled by Ethiopian government as a terrorist entity.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday urged Ethiopian authorities to immediately drop the charges pressed against the bloggers and journalists saying the charges were “politically motivated”
Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch accused Ethiopia of ’making a mockery’ of its judicial system.
“Hiding behind an abusive anti-terrorism law to prosecute bloggers and journalists doing their job is an affront to the constitution and international protection for free expression.” He said.
The New York-based press freedom group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to its side said the government in Addis Ababa was trying to stifle opposition voices and media freedom in the country.
"Expressing critical views is not a terrorist act. Once again, the Ethiopian government is misusing anti-terrorism legislation to suppress political dissent and intimidate journalists," Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s East Africa representative, said in a statement.
An opposition official on Sunday told Sudan Tribune that crackdown against critical journalists, opposition figures members and supporters was a common trend of the Ethiopian government ahead national elections.
Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegen earlier this week denied the that members of the Zone 9 bloggers were arrested for being critical to government but for having links with terrorists and for receiving instruction from the banned group.
Desalegn pledged his government will conduct democratic, free and fair elections something an opposition official referred it as “empty pledge”.
Ethiopia which is considered as regional key security partner of the US government had long been under fire of using the broadly defined anti-terrorism law as a tool to curb freedom of expression and to silence opposition voices.
The US government has also expresses grave concern against the prosecution of the journalists and urged the Ethiopian government to ensure that the trial is fair, transparent, and in compliance with Ethiopia’s constitutional guarantees and international human rights obligations.
“We urge the Ethiopian government to ensure that the trial is open to public observation and free of political influence” said, Jen Psaki, US state Department Spokesperson.
“We reiterate Secretary Kerry’s May 1 call on Ethiopia to refrain from
using anti-terrorism laws as a mechanism to curb the free exchange of ideas” Psaki added.
The trial against the nine bloggers and journalists – one is charged in absentia – is expected to resume on 4 August.
Lawyers of the suspects have all dismissed the charges and told reporters that there was no credible evidence to prosecute them.