It is Sunday at 10:00 am, and the three founding members of the collective blog Zone9, Mahlet, Abel & Befeqadu are expected to be brought to Arada first instance court for their 5th day of proceedings in their ‘hearing’
From left to right: Abel, Mahlet and Befeqadu
From inciting violence using social media to working with foreign NGOs to activities related with terrorism are swiping accusations brought to Zone9 bloggers and journalists since the last week of April 2014. Zone9ers have spent the last 65 days without a meaningful ‘legal’ charge in pre-trial detention centre called Maekalwi located in the center of Addis Ababa.
The State coordinated violence on zone9 bloggers is not a single story of repression in Ethiopia but the harassment which targeted Zone9 bloggers have shocked many because they are a freethinking members of the small but vibrant Ethiopian online community. Their forced absence from their beloved expression platform-the Internet is noticeable particularly on this World Cup season on which they would have commented, joked, betted or criticized. They’re unlawfully apprehended. Here we outline the main ‘legal’ issues, what they mean and why they matter
Q: I just want to know why does Ethiopian government have taken so long to at least ‘properly’ indict the detained bloggers.
This is a very broad question which raises core issues about the genuinenity of the Ethiopian Justice System. Apparently, the government failed to invent ‘evidences’ which could support their accusations. That’s why, we say the bloggers arrest is political and the delayed procedure will even strengthen its political nature.
Q: What reasons have been given for the extended pre-trial procedures or hearing?
So far the investigators (the police) have been giving all sorts of excuses to put off the ‘trial’. They are all “the dog ate my homework” types of excuses. Just to mention few of them: “We have only a single not properly working computer since we are investigating Twitter & WordPress blog we need time”(seriously this is not a joke); “Since the bloggers committed the ‘crime’ with their associates we need to catch their associates ” “Their associates are trying to frighten us not to do out investigation”
Q: So what is this pre-trial procedure or hearing you are talking about?
It is procedure of keeping people in custody before the start of their trial. In common law tradition it is called remand. It is assumed remand prisoners are not guilty until proven otherwise but in Ethiopian justice system most of the time it is the inverse- you are guilty until proven otherwise.
Q: But how long should it take? Is there a time limit on this procedure?
Well it depends from country to country I heard an Ethiopian law expert saying it should not take more than four months.
Q: Are you saying the bloggers will get released if the investigators could not cook up kind of charge until this time cap?
No, I am just trying to refer to the Ethiopian law. We all know that these are fake procedures
Officials have already determined the guilt of the bloggers and journalists. These procedures have their only goal to present the accusation to the public as an impressive example and as a warning to other would-be bloggers. That is the reason why the government is always talking about the collaborators of the bloggers. The intention is to make this procedure to be retributive rather than a proper hearing building up into trial and also conducted for propagandistic purposes.
Partial view of Maekelawi detention center (rear gate)
Families and friends who need to visit their loved ones have to wait until 9:00 am in a rear gate. Then they will be asked to leave after a while. In a country where citizens have a limited chance of visiting inmates these kinds of chances are like oasis and people will stay until the end.