Message to an Ethiopian Blogger: Mahlet Fantahun, You Are Not Alone

Mahlet Fantahun and Edom Kassaye, the female members of the group.

Mahlet Fantahun (second from right) stands with Edom Kassaye, a jailed journalist.

Before she was arrested, Ethiopian blogger Mahlet Fantahun worked as a data expert in the Ministry of Health of Ethiopia. Mahlet is part of the collective blogging group known as Zone9. The group take their name from an Ethiopian state prison in Addis Ababa called Kality, which has eight zones. The bloggers named their project Zone9, after the “proverbial prison in which all Ethiopians live.”

I write this blog post in solidarity with Mahlet Fantahun and her group, Zone9.

A  quick drawing of Mahlet Fantahun by Melody Sundberg

Drawing of Mahlet Fantahun by Melody Sundberg

I have never been to Ethiopia. I have however spent years in East Africa, and I am very aware that Mahlet's everyday life and the risks she has taken are very different from the life I live. People like Mahlet who choose to face these risks, despite the consequences, have my deepest respect.

I do not know what it is like to spend so many days in an Ethiopian prison. I imagine some days are worse than others. I imagine that one of the hardest parts is the fact that it is unclear how many more days you are going to spend there. I imagine that one of the worst parts is when you think of your family and friends, who are worried for your health and your future. I imagine the frustration with the legal system. The frustration with being imprisoned for doing something that really should be an asset to a community: social engagement and taking responsibility for the future of your country.

In late April, I took part in a conference in Copenhagen on Global Media Freedom with over 100 journalists and media practitioners from around the world. One question was repeated:

The question was not answered, at least not in detail. But a representative from Global Voices during the conference in Copenhagen did mention how they have worked to create awareness of what is going on in Ethiopia. How to act in solidarity. There is always something you can do.

Writing one single blog post is not going to bring Mahlet and the other imprisoned bloggers out of prison. This is much rather about keeping the story alive. Of not staying silent.

The work of Zone9 bloggers is about taking a stand and responsibility. It is about acting, not only for an individual gain but for Ethiopia. It is about working for constructive social change.

Right now, I just want Mahlet and Group Zone9 to know that they are not alone.

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