On April 25, six members of the Zone Nine blogging collective [am] were arrested in Ethiopia. Allies report that they are now being held at Maekelawi, a detention center in Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital.
News of the arrests first broke on Twitter, where fellow bloggers and social media users voiced support for those arrested and expressed their own fears about what may be to come.
Writer Bisrat Teshome, who lives in Addis Ababa, tweeted:
Terrified with the rant of EPRDF on journalists & bloggers. I almost fainted when my door was knocked at about 7pm. #Ethiopia
— Bisrat Teshome (@_Bisre) April 25, 2014
Zerihun Tesfaye, an Ethiopian journalist living in exile in the US, wrote:
The time you feel desperately lonely and helpless when almost all courageous and critical friends are being sent to jail for their activism
— Zerihun Tesfaye (@zerecon) April 25, 2014
Formed in 2012, the Zone Nine group has leveraged significant critiques of ruling government policy and practice. 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.
We believe we have been a surveillance target of the Ethiopian government since the death of the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. We have written critical articles about Zenawi’s so-called economic development and other achievements. While he received favorable coverage from many press outlets, we have shown his achievements are dubious.
As of this evening, no charges had been issued to the members of our group who were arrested today. [SEE UPDATE BELOW.]
Unfortunately, these arrests are not the first of their kind. In the suburbs of Addis Ababa, there is a large prison called Kality where many political prisoners are currently being held, among them journalists Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu. The journalists have told us a lot about the prison and its appalling conditions. Kality is divided into eight different zones, the last of which — Zone Eight — is dedicated to journalists, human right activists and dissidents.
When we came together, we decided to create a blog for the proverbial prison in which all Ethiopians live: this is Zone Nine.
UPDATE (May 2, 2014):
On Saturday, April 26, two additional journalists, Edom Kassaye and Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, were arrested. Kassaye is also a translator for Global Voices. The two reportedly are being held at Maekalawi detention center, along with bloggers Befekadu Hailu, Atnaf Berahane, Natnael Feleke, Mahlet Fantahun, Zelalem Kibret, Abel Wabela, and journalist Tesfalem Weldeves, also arrested April 25.
On Sunday, April 27, all nine were accused of “working with foreign organizations that claim to be human rights activists and…receiving finance to incite public violence through social media.” According to local contacts, they have not been allowed to see their families or legal counsel.