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Netizen Report: Ethiopia Arrests Leading Journalists and Activists in ‘State of Emergency’

Mahlet Fantahun and friends greet Befeqadu Hailu upon his release from prison on October 21, 2015. Photo via @miniliksalsawi

This article by the Advox Netizen Report originally appeared on Global Voices on March 10, 2014.

On March 26, Ethiopian authorities arrested journalists Eskinder Nega andTemesghen Desalegn, Zone 9 bloggers Befekadu Hailu and Mahlet Fantahun, and De Birhan Blog author Zelalem Workagegnehu. All have previously been jailed for their work as journalists or human rights activists.

They weren’t the only ones to be targeted during the week of March 26. A local source of Global Voices, who asked not to be named, estimated that more than 20 journalists, academicians, and prominent opposition figures were arrested. Civil society advocates from around the world called for the release of 11 journalists in a letter issued by the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia.

Nega, who is a prominent political journalist, had previously spent nearly seven years behind bars on terrorism charges. He was released from prison several weeks ago, on February 14, only to be re-arrested this week.

Nega sent a message from prison describing the “inhumane” condition in which they are being held:

…our condition in prison is inhuman, to say the least. Better to call it jam-packed than imprisoned. About 200 of us are packed in a 5 by 8 meter room divided in three sections. Unable to sit or lay down comfortably, and with limited access to a toilet. Not a single human being deserves this, regardless of the crime, let alone us who are detained unjustly. The global community should be aware of such a case and use every possible means to bring an end to our suffering.

Temesghen was taken from the prison to Zewditu hospital “due to severe back pain he developed during his jail time in recent past.”

Hailu and Fantahun have both worked with the Global Voices community. In 2014, they were arrested along with seven of their blogger and journalist colleagues, all due to their participation in the Zone9 collective blog, where they wrote about their government's obligations to human rights and constitutional law.

After 12 weeks of arbitrary detention, the writers were charged under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism proclamation and spent more than a year behind bars. Shortly before a state visit by then-US President Barack Obama in July 2015, some were released without explanation. The rest were acquitted and released in October 2015.

Since then, both bloggers have lived under close surveillance by state authorities.

All this has taken place in a tumultuous political environment. Since mid-2015, thousands of Ethiopians have begun to demand more political freedoms and social equality and a stop to government land grabs in the Oromia region, which is home to Ethiopia's largest ethnic group. The government response has been brutal: Hundreds have been killed, thousands have been arrested, and critical voices — both on and offline — have been systematically silenced.

In late 2017, Ethiopia’s ruling coalition began to splinter, resulting in political fallout and the January 2018 resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn as prime minister.

So far, 7,000 people have either had charges against them dropped or been pardoned — but as of this week, some of those released have been re-arrested. Their fate remains uncertain.

(C) Global Voices

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