Zone 9 is an Ethiopian blog founded in May 2012. The name is a reference to the 8 prison zones of the Kaliti Prison where political prisoners are often held and implies that all of Ethiopia is the “9th prison” because everyone’s rights are being violated. The blog was designed to inform citizens of their human rights and call for the government to respect those principles. The writers founded the “Freedom of Expression for all – NOW” campaign, which focused on the freedom of association and assembly under Article 30 of the Constitution. The group received warnings from Ethiopian authorities and was put under surveillance, thus persuading them to go into six months of inactivity. On April 23rd 2014, a post informed Zone 9 readers of the pressure coming from the government, which then prompted their arrest on April 25th and 26th 2014.
Between May 7th and 8th, the court authorized the detention of all nine detainees; they were denied access to legal counsel for the first 10 days of detention. They were all arrested under the criminal code and on July 17th 2014, all nine bloggers were charged with terrorism under Article 4 of the Proclamation and were placed into the Maekelawi detention facility, where they are still held pending the start of their trial. Several of the bloggers have informed family members of mistreatment which eventually circulated to the Ethiopian Human Rights commission. These accounts of mistreatment include beating, withholding food and sleep, solitary confinement and many others. On February 5th 2015, Abel Wabella informed the court of an instance of torture at Maekelawi that has forced him to use a hearing aid.
The bloggers trial began on April 27th 2014, when they were brought before a judge Criminal Bench at the Arada Federal First Instance Court without the presence of family or legal aid. Since then progress has been significantly delayed, as their trial has been adjourned 20 times as of February 18th 2015. Throughout their trial, the bloggers and their lawyers have sent requests for the judge to be replaced due to unfair treatment, but their appeal was rejected. At their 20th hearing on February 18th 2015, the bloggers once against pled not guilty before their case was once again adjourned until March 30th to April 1st 2015.
On November 24, 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists awarded the Zone 9 Bloggers its 2015 International Press Freedom Award. Click here for more information.
Abel Wabella is a cofounder of the Zone 9 blog as well as an author and translator for Global Voices, an online newspaper written in both English and Amharic. Abel is also a graduate of Mechanical Engineering and works for Ethiopian Airlines, but also spends a great deal of time blogging. He started blogging in 2009 on his own blog. Abel was arrested on April 25th 2014 along with other Zone 9 founders under terrorism charges.
Abel Wabella has been released, but his acquittal has been appealed by authorities.
Asmamaw Hailegiorgis is a freelance journalist and senior editor at the Amharic-language news magazine Addis Guday. He has a background in information technology and has worked with radio programs in addition to working as a journalist. He was arrested on April 26th 2014.
Asmamaw Hailegiorgis has been released.
Atnaf Berhane is an Ethiopian blogger and human rights activist who cofounded the Zone 9 blog. In addition to Zone 9, Atnaf also works on his own personal blog and is an employee of the city administration in Addis Ababa. Atnaf was arrested on April 25th with other Zone 9 cofounders under terrorism charges.
Atnad Behane has been released, but his acquittal has been appealed by authorities.
Befekadu [Befeqadu] Hailu is cofounder of the Zone 9 blog and wrote for Global Voices, an international news website, as well as his own personal blog, the Q perspective, before he was arrested. Hailu also served as Editor-in-Chief at Enqu an Ethiopian magazine. In addition to his work in journalism, Hailu has published several novels and poems. He won the Burt Award for African Literature for his novel Children of Our Parents in 2012. On April 25th 2014, Hailu was arrested along with other cofounders of Zone 9 under terrorism charges.
Befekadu Hailu has been released, but his acquittal has been appealed by authorities.
Edom Kassaye is a freelance journalist, a translator for Global Voices and an active member for the Ethiopian Environmental Journalists Association. She previously worked as a journalist at Addis Zemen, the Ethiopian Herald and Radio Fana. Edom was a very close associate of the Zone 9 bloggers, who were arrested on the same charges. She was arrested on April 25th 2014 on terrorism charges.
Edom Kassaye has been released.
Mahlet Fantahun is a cofounder of the Zone 9 blog and a graduate in applied mathematics. She is also a database administrator in the Ministry of Health in Addis Ababa. Mahlet was arrested on April 25th 2014 under terrorism charges.
Mahlet Fantahum has been released.
Natnail Feleke is a cofounder of the Zone 9 blog and works for the Construction and Business Bank in Addis Ababa. He also studied as an economist and is a member of the Ethiopian Economic Association, but is also very involved in human rights. He is an avid user of social media and has an active presence on Facebook and Twitter. Natnail was arrested on April 25th 2014 under terrorism charges.
Natnail Feleke has been released, but his acquittal has been appealed by authorities.
Tesfalem Waldyes is a freelance journalist who writes for several Ethiopian publications including Addis Fortune and Addis Standard as well as serving as editor of the Addis Neger, which is now closed. A great deal of his work advocates for issues around the Ethiopian textile industry, the growth of towns due to large national projects, international summits, food aid, the South Sudan crisis, late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s failing health, corruption and the Anti-terrorism Proclamation. Tesfalem was arrested on April 25th under charges of terrorism.
Tesfalem Waldyes has been released.
Zelalem Kibret is a cofounder of the Zone 9 blog as well as being a teacher and lawyer in Ethiopia. He received a Master’s degree at Addis Ababa University and soon began teaching at Ambo University. He is active on social media, where he advocates for education issues. Zelalem also volunteers as an interpreter for Global Voices, an online news website that is published in both English and Amharic. Zelalem was arrested on April 25th 2014 at work along with other cofounders of Zone 9 under terrorism charges.
Zelalem Kibret has been released.
- Netizen Report: Ethiopia’s Zone9 Bloggers Go Back to Court. On March 29, 2016, four members of Zone9 appeared before the Supreme Court of Ethiopia. The bloggers once again face a long-term prison sentence after State authorities appealed their release. The court date was brief and has been postponed until May 25, 2016. (March 30, 2016, Global Voices).