The Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, today said the detention of the six so-called “Zone Nine” bloggers and three other journalists in Ethiopia over the past year has been “absolutely unacceptable”.
The bloggers, who used an online platform to report on social and political issues in Ethiopia, were arrested on April 25 and 26 last year and have remained in detention ever since. The Federal First Instance Court of Ethiopia reportedly charged them under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation for “working with foreign human rights organizations and inciting violence through social media to create instability in the country.” Their trial has been adjourned several times.
“The continued detention of these journalists is absolutely unacceptable and particularly worrying as the country prepares to hold parliamentary elections on May 24. The open public debate that should mark any democratic process is obviously undermined if journalists are silenced through harassment or detention,” Kaye said.
“Muzzling the media and limiting public debate is never a good response to the threats of violence and terrorism,” continued Kaye. “Prosecuting journalists who are legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression creates a system of self-censorship in which journalists must choose between limiting their speech, living in exile, or facing years in prison.”
“To comply with its obligations, Ethiopia must respect the rights to assemble peacefully and associate freely, online as well as offline, including those of people expressing dissenting views,” added Kiai.
The Special Rapporteurs noted that the Ethiopian authorities had already publicly recognized the need to ensure freedom of the press.
“During the last Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia’s record in the UN Human Rights Council, the Government accepted a number of recommendations relating to the promotion of freedom of expression and encouraging political debate ahead of elections. Fulfilling these commitments is essential for the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.”