By Natnael Feleke
Dear John Kerry,
I first came to know about you back in 2004, during the US presidential election, when you were running for office against George Bush. At just 17 years old I knew little about US politics – or politics in general – but I discussed the campaigns with my schoolmates.
A year later, the historic 2005 Ethiopian national election took place. This election differed from previous votes in that the lead up to it was mostly democratic. This left many Ethiopians hoping they would witness the first elected change of government in the country’s history. But it was not to be.
After polling day, we saw civilian bloodshed, and the arrest of thousands – including journalists and opposition leaders.
I was only young then, but the election gave me my first real experience of politics. It also left me with a strong desire to follow the repressive situation that was unfolding in Ethiopia.
It was this interest and commitment that led my friends and I to form the bloggers’ and pro-democracy activist group we called Zone 9.
The birth of Zone 9
All nine members of the blogging group are young and passionate about encouraging Ethiopia’s democracy.
We aimed to create a platform for Ethiopian youth to discuss political, economic and social issues when we launched our blog, with the motto, “we blog because we care”.
Although our arrest came two years after launching, our site was blocked in Ethiopia early on, but we continued to share our views via social media.
Finally, the regime took drastic measures: in April 2014 they arrested six members of Zone9, and three other journalists too.
We are now facing between eight and 18 years imprisonment.
This hasn’t come as a surprise. Whenever Ethiopians exercise their constitutional rights to free expression, the regime resorts to its security apparatus to silence them.
My charges are tied up with our meeting back in 2013. We met in Addis Ababa University: the minister of foreign affairs Tedros Adhanom invited me and a couple of others for a discussion, in which I raised my concerns about the regime’s tactics to push young citizens away from participating in politics.
I highlighted the negative impact this was having on the political sphere. I told you that I was risking a lot merely by expressing my thoughts freely. At that time, my arrest was only an abstract possibility.
One Year After Arrest Zone 9 Bloggers Remain Imprisoned as Trial Drags On
Ethiopian bloggers on trial in case seen as crackdown on free expression (Washington Post)
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