Cyber Ethiopia

The Imprisonment of Ethiopian Bloggers

by Mayukh Sen
Internet Monitor

This is Zone Nine: The Continued Imprisonment of Six Ethiopian Bloggers

There’s a prison, hidden in the suburbs of Addis Ababa, named Kality. Home to many of Ethiopia’s political prisoners, the prison is divided into eight zones. The last of these zones, Zone Eight, is home to detained journalists, human rights activists, and dissidents.Free Zone 9 Bloggers banner. Original design by Hugh D'Andrade, remixed by Hisham Almiraat.

To some Ethiopian citizens, there is a Ninth Zone – a Zone dedicated to the “proverbial prison in which all Ethiopians live”. In 2012, a group of passionate Ethiopian bloggers launched Zone Nine, a blogging collective that, in its own words, “blogs because it cares”. Zone Nine prides itself on providing a counter to the opinions, voices, and attitudes that dominate Ethiopia’s press.

In April 2014, six of Zone Nine’s bloggers – along with three print journalists suspected of associating with the group – were arrested on the grounds that they were covertly receiving money from foreign human rights organizations to incite violence through social media.

63 days have passed since their detention. The bloggers have appeared in court continually over the past few months while being detained in Addis Ababa’s Maekelawi detention center. No formal charges have been leveled against them as of yet. That said, activists fear that these bloggers and journalists will suffer the same fate that befell Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu, two journalists imprisoned and charged with terrorism (a crime that carries heavy fines and a lengthy prison term) in 2011.

The collective has blogged about numerous political issues affecting the Ethiopian populace, hoping to bolster civic discourse in service of social change. In the wake of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s death, for example, Zone Nine penned scathing critiques of Zenawi’s proclaimed economic development achievements, casting doubt on his legacies. They also partnered with Global Voices to launch Global Voices in Amharic in 2012, hoping to make international news accessible to local readers.

Since its inception, Zone Nine has amassed a passionate readership within the country. According to its own bloggers, Zone Nine’s stories have occasionally been picked up by wider-known publications within the country, signaling wider support for the messages it has broadcasted. Outside of Ethiopia, the detention of the Zone Nine bloggers has ignited public furor. Global Voices launched a #FreeZone9Bloggers hashtagging campaign and organized a FreeZone9Bloggers Tweetathon on May 14, while UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay criticized Ethiopia’s increasing frequency of charges against journalists on the grounds of terrorism.

- gerardvanmourik @endalk2006 @Eshete #zone9bloggers will overcome someday! #change will visit #ethiopia and no one will be able to stop her

— twsgy™ (@twsgy) June 10, 2014

@natnaelteklu this sums up why #Zone9Bloggers or any concerned citizen is jailed in #Ethiopia, #FreeZone9Bloggers pic.twitter.com/wO11vcRtzd

— Fitsum Tilahun (@fitse_t) June 10, 2014

Slowly losing track of # of days #Zone9Bloggers jailed, but not losing track of them. 1 is a numerical issue, the other is a human issue.

— Maaza Mengiste (@MaazaMengiste) June 7, 2014

The arrests arrive in the context of what some activists fear is a growingly repressive media milieu in Ethiopia. For years, journalists – on and offline – have been susceptible to governmental terrorism charges. The Committee to Protect Journalists has claimed that more journalists have fled Ethiopia since May 2013 than in anywhere else in the world. An ambiguously-worded anti-terrorism law, mobilized in 2009, gave the Ethiopian government the power to act against any form of political dissent so long as it is deemed “supportive of armed opposition activity”. The passage of this law has led to the arrest and detention of scores of journalists.

Recently, this fight against journalists has moved online, with Ethiopian governmental officials moving to counteract online criticism of their efforts by training blogging recruits to attack any online criticism of the administration (a practice known as astroturfing). The government has trained over 230 bloggers since May, teaching them how to post comments that sing the praises of the regime on social media—a particularly interesting move, given that less than 2% of Ethiopia’s population has Internet access.

Short URL: http://cyberethiopia.com/2013/?p=910

Posted by on Jun 29 2014. Filed under News, Views and Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Warka
Warka ዋርካ
the Pioneering Ethiopian Discussion
Forum in Amharic



The then-TPLF-dominated regime in Ethiopia was the first in sub-Saharan Africa to actively engage in political censorship of the Internet .

Since May 2006, the most popular Ethiopian web sites (including CyberEthiopia) and several blogs have been blocked across the nation. The apparent objective was to prevent the dissemination of information that is critical of the regime.

Following the political protests which have swept the nation since November 2015, the regime has routinely shutdown the Internet and restricted access to Social Media (including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber) and indicated its keenness to control Social Media.

On 22nd June 2018, the new Prime Minister Dr Abye Ahmed's government reported that it had unblocked 264 websites including CyberEthiopia.com after 12 years of blockage as attested by the OONI’s thorough verifications of our website’s unblocking .




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