Zone 9 Case Sees 11th Court Delay

Journalists Tesfalem Weldyes, Asmamaw Haile Giorigis, Edom Kassaye, and bloggers Mahlet Fantahun, Abel Wabela, Befeqadu Hailu, Zelalem Kebret, Atenaf Berahene and Natnael Feleke have been jailed since April.

The International Press Institute

By: Siobhan Hagan, IPI Contributor

VIENNA – An Ethiopian court this week delayed proceedings for an 11th time against six bloggers and three independent journalists, who were arrested in April in connection with their activities as part of the Zone 9 collective.

The court at a hearing on Tuesday adjourned the case until Nov. 12, 2014. The nine defendants, who were arrested in Addis Ababa on April 25 and 26, have now been in pre-trial detention for over six months.

The bloggers and journalists are being held on charges of alleged terrorism and inciting violence as a result of their contact with foreign human rights organisations and opposition political parties. They are being prosecuted under Ethiopia’s controversial, 2009 anti-terrorism law.

After a joint mission to Ethiopia with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) last year, IPI called on Ethiopian authorities to release all journalists convicted under the legislation and urged that the law be amended in a way that does not inhibit constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression rights.

IPI Senior Press Freedom Adviser Steven M. Ellis said: “The Zone 9 case not only illustrates the stifling press environment in Ethiopia, but the severely impeded judicial proceedings in this case also interfere with the defendants’ due process rights.”

The Zone 9 Trial Tracker blog calls the 11th delay a “record” in a case that has been stalled since the April arrests and marked by repeated delays.

The first delays were a result of police requests for more time to conduct investigations. The defendants were not formally charged until July 17, when they were brought to the Lideta High Court for a hearing without legal representation. When they refused to be tried without a lawyer, the case was adjourned until the next morning. At a July 18 hearing, the trial was adjourned until Aug. 4.

The Trial Tracker blog reported that at Tuesday’s hearing there was confusion regarding changes in the courtroom venue. The blog said that the hearing was pushed back as a result of two presiding judges in the case being replaced with new judges, who were unprepared to make a ruling.

Before last year’s joint IPI/WAN-IFRA mission, African Union Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information Pansy Tlakula told IPI: “[F]ollowing the 2005 general elections in Ethiopia, freedom of expression and media freedom [have] been continuously deteriorating.”

In a report released on Jan. 14 following the mission, IPI said that Ethiopia’s use of sweeping anti-terrorism law to imprison journalists and other legislative restrictions were hindering the development of free and independent media in the country.

Photo credit: Jomanex Kasaye via IPI

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