Zone 9 is an Ethiopian blog founded in May 2012. The name is a reference to the 8 prison zones of the Kaliti Prison where political prisoners are often held and implies that all of Ethiopia is the “9th prison” because everyone’s rights are being violated. The blog was designed to inform citizens of their human rights and call for the government to respect those principles. The writers founded the “Freedom of Expression for all – NOW” campaign, which focused on the freedom of association and assembly under Article 30 of the Constitution. The group received warnings from Ethiopian authorities and was put under surveillance, thus persuading them to go into six months of inactivity. On April 23rd 2014, a post informed Zone 9 readers of the pressure coming from the government, which then prompted their arrest on April 25th and 26th 2014.
Between May 7th and 8th, the court authorized the detention of all nine detainees; they were denied access to legal counsel for the first 10 days of detention. They were all arrested under the criminal code and on July 17th 2014, all nine bloggers were charged with terrorism under Article 4 of the Proclamation and were placed into the Maekelawi detention facility, where they are still held pending the start of their trial. Several of the bloggers have informed family members of mistreatment which eventually circulated to the Ethiopian Human Rights commission. These accounts of mistreatment include beating, withholding food and sleep, solitary confinement and many others. On February 5th 2015, Abel Wabella informed the court of an instance of torture at Maekelawi that has forced him to use a hearing aid.
The bloggers trial began on April 27th 2014, when they were brought before a judge Criminal Bench at the Arada Federal First Instance Court without the presence of family or legal aid. Since then progress has been significantly delayed, as their trial has been adjourned 20 times as of February 18th 2015. Throughout their trial, the bloggers and their lawyers have sent requests for the judge to be replaced due to unfair treatment, but their appeal was rejected. At their 20th hearing on February 18th 2015, the bloggers once against pled not guilty before their case was once again adjourned until March 30th to April 1st 2015.
On November 24, 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists awarded the Zone 9 Bloggers its 2015 International Press Freedom Award. Click here for more information.
Abel Wabella has been released, but his acquittal has been appealed by authorities.
Befekadu Hailu has been released, but his acquittal has been appealed by authorities.
Natnail Feleke has been released, but his acquittal has been appealed by authorities.
- Netizen Report: Ethiopia’s Zone9 Bloggers Go Back to Court. On March 29, 2016, four members of Zone9 appeared before the Supreme Court of Ethiopia. The bloggers once again face a long-term prison sentence after State authorities appealed their release. The court date was brief and has been postponed until May 25, 2016. (March 30, 2016, Global Voices).