In April 2014, the Ethiopian government jailed six members of Zone 9 bloggers and three journalists in the country's biggest crackdown on bloggers and journalists. Following their arrest, the bloggers and journalists were charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009, a law drafted with the support of the United States government, with the intention of targeting organized crime groups in the Horn of Africa, such as Al Shabaab. The law has since become a political tool, used to put journalists like Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu behind bars.
Charges against Zone9 bloggers Zelalem Kiberet, Tesfalem Waldyes, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, Mahlet Fantahun and Edom Kassaye have been dropped and all five have been released. Four members of the original group continue to face charges from behind bars. They are Befeqadu Hailu, Natnael Feleke, Atnaf Berahane and Abel Wabela.
Journalist Reeyot Alemu, who was convicted under the same law in 2011, was also released last Friday.
Bilena, a close friend of Zone9 bloggers, expressed her disbelief after hearing the news in the following tweet:
I'm shaking with joy and disbelief!!! I'm five minutes away from Tesfalem. I'm going to see him noww Is this real??? 😀😀😀
— Blena (@BlenaSahilu) July 8, 2015
The uncertainty surrounding the fate of the rest of Zone9 bloggers and journalists has brought mixed emotions to many people. Mahlet Solomon, the coordinator for Zone9 crowdfunding initiative, expressed joy and sadness at the same time:
Thought I am shaking with joy, I am equally unhappy and worried to realize that the families of Natty, Abel,… http://t.co/CqulzKamsr
— Mahlét #FreeEdom (@Mahlet_SN) July 8, 2015
Ethiopian lawyer Aklile Solomon made the following observation:
As happy as i am to see them walking free and reunited with their loved ones i cant help but wonder how good a news this really is. They were just released, no explanation, no reason, no justification???? The Ministry of Justice dropped the charges which means they can be charged again. A life filled with fear is what i see, afraid of the unkown and what could happen next….what about the rest? How are they “
Eskedar Alemu, the sister of Reeyot Alemu, shared a photo with her sister and expressed her joy by thanking all who were part of the campaign for her release:
በጣም ደስ ብሎኛል !
ሁሌ ነገሪ የሆነች እህቴ ዛሬ አ|ጠገቤ አለች ለዚህም ደስ ብሎኛል ! ይህ ደስታ የኔ ብቻ አይደለም ስለ ሉልዬ ( ርዕዮት) የምትጨነቁ በሙሉ ነው፣ ልክ እንደ እህቴ እና ወንድሜ የምሳሳላቸው ማህሌት ፋንታሁን፣ ኤዶም ካሳዬ፣ ተስፋለም ወልደየስ፣ ዘላለም ክብረት፣ አስማማው ሀ/ጊዮርጊስ ከእስር ተፈተውልኛል፣ደስታዬም ይበልጥ ድርብ ሆኖልኛል ፣ ቀሪዎችም ከእስር እንደሚፈቱ እምኔቴ ፅኑ ነው፡፡ለሁሉ ነገር ፈጣሪ የተመሰገነ ይሁን .አሜን !!!
I am very delighted I am very happy that my everything and my syster is around me,this joy is not only shared by me but also by those who deeply care about her and what makes my joy more is the fact that Mahlet,Edom,Tesfalem,Zelalem and Asmamaw are also released and I am hoping the rest will be freed as well soon and Thank God
There a lot of speculations about the motive behind their release. Some argue that their release was prompted by President Obama planned visit to the country this month. Alemayehu mocked the government's move:
as #obamascare driven from the popular #obamacare tag
Temesgen Feseha noted:
I was getting annoyed with all the fuss about obama coming here. The city is supposed to be in lockdown for the safety of his visit. But After hearing that some of the bloggers and journalists were being released, i think it’s worth it. Now i hope the US President comes to visit every year. Every month if he's not busy. Or even saying he's coming, even if he doesn't.#LeasingFreedomOfSpeech #FreedomOfSpeechIsVisiting
Samuel Gebru disagreed that President Obama's visit prompted their release:
Simply put, the terrorism charges against journalists like Tesfalem Waldyes and Reeyot Alemu were absurd and groundless to begin with but don't be mistaken, their releases have nothing to do with President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to Ethiopia.
Some speculate that the release may have been linked to this week's UN-sponsored Conference on Financing for Development (#FFD3), taking place in Addis Ababa. Jomanex, a close friend of the Zone9 group,
Development under dictatorship is the the “prosperity” of few individuals, #Ethiopia is an example. #FFD3 #Corruption #FreeZone9Bloggers
— Jomanex (@jomanex) July 13, 2015
And Mekdi G was swift to point out the contradictory nature of Ethiopia's development agenda:
If you really cares for the real development, stop killing the dreams of Ethiopian youth in the name of terrorism! #FFD3 #FreeZone9Bloggers
— Mekdi_G :) (@Mekdi_G) July 13, 2015