#FreeZone9Bloggers: Why Is Ethiopia Strangling Free Speech?

By Nwachukwu Egbunike

The grave injustice a nd threat to the most fundamental rights are being abused in the most flagrant manner in Ethiopia. It has never been an easy task to be a journalist anywhere on this planet, however it seems to be journalist or blogger in Ethiopia necessarily translates into a death sentence. 

6 bloggers

What does a free and vibrant online and offline press pose a threat to the Ethiopian state? Why is Ethiopia on this self-destructive race to assume the number on enemy of free speech in the African continent? When did it become a crime to be a journalist and to preach the truth and serve it for all? One cannot but ask these questions following the recent arrest of six members of Zone Nine Bloggers Collective in a country reputed to be the cradle of Homo sapiens.

The six arrested bloggers are – Abel WabellaAtnaf BerhaneMahlet FantahunNatnail FelekeZelalem Kibret and Befekadu Hailu. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that they are being charged for “working with foreign human rights organizations and using social media to create instability in the country”.

This Global Voices Advocacy post details the fear of Ethiopian netizens for the six arrested bloggers and their own safety. “Formed in 2012, the Zone Nine group has leveraged significant critiques of ruling government policy and practice.” Endalk continues by giving a deeper context to the dangerous but brave work done by the Zone Nine Bloggers Collective: “We have managed to conduct online campaigns in an effort to raise awareness about political repression in the country. We are also dedicated to translating international news for local audiences — through our partnership with Global Voices, we launched Global Voices in Amharic two years ago.” 

Ethiopia has a repressible history of stifling free speech. Reeyot Alemu (a columnist and English school teacher) and four other journalists were arrested in 2011 and convicted based on a trumped up charge of terrorism. The other journalists are Woubshet Taye, Eskinder Nega, Yusuf Getachew and Solomon Kebede.

Eskinder Nega, journalist and blogger, was handed an 18-year jail sentence under the Ethiopian anti-terror law. Nega’s crime was for voicing his opposition, in an article, against government’s silencing vocal critics. Mr Nega was awarded the 2014 Golden Pen of Freedom.

The grave injustice and threat to the most fundamental rights are being abused in the most flagrant manner in Ethiopia. It has never been an easy task to be a journalist anywhere on this planet, however it seems to be journalist or blogger in Ethiopia necessarily translates into a death sentence. Sadly the African Union plays the ostrich while the Ethiopian government morphs into a rabid predator of free speech in the continent.

Free speech is on trial in Ethiopia, it is not simply a matter of strangling press freedom. Rather Ethopia has taken the sloppy path of killing of any form of dissent. The social media is the newest victim in this deliberate and systemic plan to gag Ethiopians forever. Having sealed the fate of traditional journalists, the government is now set for a major crackdown on their online counterparts. It is doubly painful that the very essence of a free web is being challenged in the 21st Century and yet only very few seem to care. There is no excuse for the deadly silence of the continents main stream media on this grave assault. None whatsoever!

First Published in AfricanHadithi (April 30, 2014)

 

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