Charges Dropped Against 5 Members of Zone9: Focus on Abel Wabela Still Jailed

Charges have been dropped against five of the nine Zone 9 bloggers -- Tesfalem Waldyes, Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, Zelalem Kiberet, Edom Kassaye and Mahlet Fantahun. (Photograph credit : Endalk Chala)

Tadias Magazine
News Update

Published: Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

New York (TADIAS) — Three members of Ethiopia’s Zone 9 bloggers and journalists, whose arrest last year generated a global outcry, have been released from prison after spending over a year behind bars.

The journalists and bloggers were arrested in April 2014 as part of a sweep against their online group, which reported and debated on issues including human rights in Ethiopia. Their release comes a few weeks in advance of President Obama’s scheduled visit to the country.

Those freed today include “Tesfalem Waldyes, Asmamaw Hailegeorgis and Zelalem Kiberet,” according BBC News. Other news outlets report that charges have also been dropped against Edom Kassaye and Mahlet Fantahun.

“We welcome the release of three of the nine journalists and bloggers– Tesfalem Waldeyes, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, and Zelalem Kibret,” said Vukasin Petrovic, Director of Africa programs at Freedom House. “They were imprisoned for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. Freedom House urges the Ethiopian government to drop all charges and release the remaining six journalists and bloggers.”

The Zone 9 members that still remain incarcerated are Abel Wabella, Natnael Feleke, Befekadu Hailu and Atinaf Berhane. Another associate of the group, Soliana Shimelis, was charged in absentia.

“The release of these five journalists is a welcome turn of events in Ethiopia, where the number of journalists in prison has steadily increased in recent years,” the East Africa Representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Tom Rhodes, said. “We call on authorities to release the remaining Zone 9 bloggers and all the journalists in jail for their work, and to drop all charges against them.”

CPJ added: “With at least 12 journalists remaining in prison, Ethiopia is the second-worst jailer of journalists in Africa, after Eritrea, according to CPJ research. Most of the journalists face terrorism charges. The country is ranked fourth on CPJ’s list of the 10 Most Censored Countries.”

In a separate, but related report in their ongoing online series called They Have Names the Global Voices website recently featured Abel Wabela who says his mission in life is “to fight bystander apathy.”

Focus on Zone 9′s Abel Wabela

Abel Wabela. (Photo courtesy of family)

Global Voices Online

This marks the sixth post in our series – “They Have Names” – that seeks to highlight the individual bloggers who are currently in jail. We wish to humanize them, to tell their particular and peculiar stories. This week, Swedish blogger and artist Melody Sundberg writes about Abel Wabela, a member of Zone9 and the manager of Global Voices’ Amharic site.

I have never been to Ethiopia, but I have followed the never-ending trials of the bloggers closely through social media and conversations. A name often mentioned is that of Abel Wabela, a 28-year-old blogger, author and translator for Global Voices. During the first three months of the bloggers’ detention in Maekelawi*, Abel refused to sign a prepared confession paper in which he, together with the other bloggers, were incriminated. For this, Abel underwent extreme torture. According to the Ethiopian Human Rights Project (EHRP), he was beaten by a person using a stick, and his feet were whipped by someone using a computer plug cable. He was forced to lay on the floor while interrogators stomped on his back, neck and face. Since then, he has had to use a hearing aid as a result of worsened hearing impairment.

According to Endalk Chala, co-founder of the blogging group, Abel had suffered poor treatment even before his arrest. One day, three weeks before the arrest, Abel was beaten as he was walking home from work. Several people appeared and beat him so severely that he lost his consciousness, and they took his cell phone and laptop. He feared beating was a threat, intended to make him stop blogging. But Abel continued his work.

Abel Wabela. (Drawing by Melody Sundberg)

I wanted to know more about Abel, so I asked some of those close to him to describe their friend. Endalk Chala describes Abel as the most kindhearted and wonderful soul. Abel is a man of knowledge and a great conversationalist, and he believes in open and honest discussions. Jomanex Kasaye describes Abel as being straight forward and knowing what he stands for. At the same time, he is very humble. Abel is always hungry for more knowledge. He likes to spend his time in discussions with historians, university lecturers and authors. His faith is important to him. He loves attending in church. He often visited prisoners, having the country and its people in his heart. He always thinks of others rather than himself.

Read more at Global Voices Online »

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