Monthly Archives: July 2014

Contextual translation of the charges of the Zone9 bloggers

Prelude on EPRDFization of terrorism charges

Before I give a brief contextual translation of the charges of the Zone9 bloggers it is important to highlight the EPRDF-ization of terrorism charges and later trials of the bloggers to paint a broader picture of why Ethiopian government have indicted more than 15 journalists and bloggers with terrorism charges  in the last three years alone. The Amharic 19 pages of charge sheets is available here.

The terrorism trials instigated by Ethiopian government led to the exile of many journalists including those who are described as the most balanced and mature ones. The Ethiopian government terrorism trials are generally seen as part of government’s approach to try to have a power on every dissenting voice of the country. This is what I call the EPRDFization of terrorism charges . The translated version of the charges will indisputably show how far the incompetent authorities of Ethiopia will go to squash an honest, candid and civic minded young bloggers who have had a trust on the Ethiopian Constitution. The bloggers have campaigned for the respect of the constitution.But Ethiopian authorities repress people in the name of fighting terrorism and protecting the constitution. What is more hurting is the government has related the bloggers with diaspora based political organizations on which the bloggers have leveraged significant amount of criticism. Sometimes the bloggers have been even more critical on these political organizations than the government itself. It is nauseating to be accused of irrelevant political organizations that have neither ideological nor material relationship with the bloggers. The absurdity of the charges does not even stop with this; the two political organizations Ginbot7 & OLF, which the bloggers have allegedly received assistance have immense ideological hostilities.

Hence, the translation of the charges and the usage of legal parlance in the process is not to rationalize the trial of the bloggers. Absolutely not, but it is to show the contemptible nature of the Ethiopian justice system and useless Ethiopian authorities. I strongly believe that the injustice of the Zone9 bloggers and their ally journalists is just a tip of the iceberg.

Note on the translation of the charges

Now to the contextual translation of the charges but ahead of that a note on the translation. Seven out of nine members of the blogging collective and three journalists were all charged with the specified violations stated under Ethiopian laws stated below. The Amharic phrasing of the crimes is repetitive and tedious which makes it difficult to translate the charges in to English in the most sensible manner for someone who is not familiar with Ethiopian legal system. The translator strongly believes that the verbosity of the charges is an apparent suggestion for the sham nature of the trial. Hence, I will only translate specific allegations which are germane to advocacy efforts of exonerating the innocent civic minded bloggers and journalists. All the names of the bloggers and the journalists with their role in the  alleged transgression are listed in the charge sheet.

Charge One

  1. Violation of Article 32 sub-articles 1 & 2 of the 2004 criminal code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
  2. Violation of Article 38 sub-articles 1 & 2 of the 2004 criminal code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
  3. Violation of Article 4 of the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

If you need to read on the above particular articles which the government have accused  the bloggers  to have violated. You can read here and here.

Specifications 1

Since May 2012 the group purposely organized themselves clandestinely to participate in criminal activities. The group has divided themselves into three division of work as research, advocacy and foreign relation. All of them have sought and received support (financial, strategic & ideological) from two forbidden terrorist organizations called Ginbot 7/May 15 and OLF (Oromo Liberation Front). Beside, creating an encrypted line of communications with ESAT, which is the charge sheet claimed to be the mouthpiece of Ginbot 7 the bloggers and the journalists have reported their activities to ESAT (Diaspora based Radio & Television Organization)

Specification 2

In the process of their criminal activities which were impeded as soon as their capture on 25th and 26th of April 2014 the bloggers and the journalists have participated on various trainings. They have traveled out of the country on various occasions to partake in these trainings. They have also organized the trainings in the country. In the trainings the suspects have learned how to encrypt their online communications from a software package called ‘Security in a Box’

If you want to know more on what ‘Security in a Box’  is please click here

Charge Two

  1.  Violation of Article 27 sub-articles 1 & 2 of the 2004 criminal code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
  2. Violation of Article 32 sub-articles 1 & 2 of the 2004 criminal code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
  3. Violation of Article 38 sub-articles 1 of the 2004 criminal code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
  4. Violation of Article 238 sub-articles 1 of the 2004 criminal code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

While the media have widely reported the charges in light of the controversial anti-terrorism proclamation of the 2009 the bloggers and journalists have faced even grim charges such as outrages against the constitution or the constitutional order as it is stipulated in the Article 238 sub-articles 1 of the 2004 criminal code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Again if you need to read the articles the government claimed to have been violated by the bloggers. Read them here.

Specification:

From the day of their establishment in May 2012 until they were caught in April 2014 the group has intentionally organized themselves to overthrow, modify or suspend the Federal or State Constitution; or by violence, threats, or conspiracy. They have received trainings from banned political organizations to carry out the crimes stipulated on charge two. All the journalists and bloggers are indicted with

Evidence

The prosecutor presented various evidence in support of their allegations. In the charge sheets the prosecutors claimed that they have both human and material evidence to support their allegations. But the prosecutor have not listed the names of the human evidences also know as witnesses. It is claimed that for the sake of witnesses protection as predetermined by Ethiopian law the prosecutors are not required to present a list of the people who will testify against the bloggers and journalists.

  1. The confessions which are made by the bloggers and journalists are attached by the prosecutor as a proof of their crime
  2. Manuscript, digital documents and physical evidence

From the charges sheets most of them are articles which the bloggers have written in span of two years, which are available on this blog. But some of the evidences the prosecutors claimed will support their allegations are the following:

  1. The political programs of Ginbot 7 and OLF
  2. A reflection article based on Wael Ghonim’s book of ‘Revolution 2.0
  3. Security in a Box: Tools & Tactics in Digital Security
  4. Stop Censorship: An Online Campaign Plan
  5. Email exchanges between members of the Zone9 blogging collectives
  6. Travel itineraries of the bloggers and passports
  7. Articles about issues on Ethio-Telecom and its functions
  8. Defamatory articles on Ethiopian government, constitution and government authorities
  9. Documents located on USB drives of the bloggers
  10. List of interviewees for documentary made on Ethiopia’s Freedom of Expression
  11. A Domain name called www.korojo.com
  12. Documents on how to have secure pass phrases and message encryption
  13. The physical movements of the bloggers and journalists, their meeting points from surveillance results
  14. Files which indicate the money they have received from different organizations
  15. Written articles of different sizes
  16. Laptops
  17. Hard disc drives
  18. USB drives
  19. SIM Cards
  20. Smart phones
  21. CDs
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Government officially charged Ethiopian bloggers and journalists as a ‘terror’ suspects

A bi-weekly Amharic newspaper reported that seven out of nine members of the Zone9 blogging collective and three journalists are charged with ‘terrorism’ related activities. It was reported that the bloggers and journalists were brought to Lideta High Court on Thursday late in the afternoon of Addis Ababa time without prior announcement to their lawyers, family members and friends who follow the defendants’ case for the past three months.

The report pointed out that lawyer of the defendant bloggers and journalists, Amaha Mekonen was not around during the proceeding which the defendants protested to the presiding judge citing the absence of their lawyer as a reason. The judge accepted the protest of the bloggers and journalists and re-scheduled the’ trial’ for early morning hours of Friday July 18, 2014

The charges

  1. Working with organizations which are branded as ‘terrorist’ by Ethiopian government.The Ethiopian government charged the bloggers and journalists with the controversial anti-terrorism law which was enacted in 2009. The newspaper reported that the bloggers and journalists indicated for receiving training and financial support from two totally ideologically dissimilar Ethiopian political parties who are based in Europe and USA.
  2. Taking part in training of software tools  used for email encryptionThe bloggers and journalists are accused of taking part in training of an Internet encryption tools that are developed by Tactical Tech and Front Line Defenders, two Europe based human right NGOs.
  3. Underground OrganizationAccording to the news report the bloggers and journalists are also accused of organizing themselves clandestinely as Zone9 blogging collectives

Reaction

The majority members of the Ethiopian online community have laughed off the charge as a poorly written fiction. Stay tuned since details charges will emerge by tomorrow as we are working to get hold of the written charges.

Endalk Chala

Interview with the lawyer of illegally detained Zone9 bloggers & journalists

Translator’s note

The first instance court of Arada bench was expected to wrap up the pre-trial ‘hearing’ which took more than 70 days and yet the bloggers were not even brought before the judge. Mr.Amaha a lawyer defending the bloggers & journalists who are detained on unclear but shaping up to be on terrorism charges expected the first instance court at Arada bench to rest the pre-trial procedure on Saturday. The court had set the 12th July hearing for closing arguments but with an extraordinary move the police referred the case to the Federal High Court without even the presence of the defendants and their lawyer himself. The shift overlooked the court and contravenes even the standard procedure of the biased justice system. The lawyer speaks to  Dawit Solomon, a journalist based in Addis Ababa about the issue. Here are the translated excerpts from the interview.

 DAWIT: What were your thoughts on your way to the court for Saturday’s procedure?

AMAHA: I expected the police might demand for more time to wrap up their interrogation as usual. I also sought to see how the court would reply to this repeated claim of the police. Nevertheless, to the shock of me and all people who were here what unfolded was really baffling. Since the detainees were not brought to the court some journalists went straight to the court’s registrar to ask about the case. Then a person who claimed himself as “the detective” of the case told the journalists since he is done with the interrogation he submitted the case for a prosecutor. He further claimed that the case is closed. This was what I was told by the journalists then I also went in to verify which I found it true. They closed the case without the presence of the defendants and without the presence of me who is representing them.

DAWIT: What action have you taken after you heard?

AMAHA: We have been to court’s compound a way earlier than the scheduled time of the hearing. When the detectives/ police officers presented their arguments it should be in our presence. I have tried to explain our disappointment to the judge. This is basically a grave breach of law.

DAWIT: So what is the encroachment? Where is the breach of the law?

AMAHA: It is this court that allowed the detectives to wrap up their interrogations within 28 days. Presumably up until now the defendants were under custody with at least (translator’s addition) the authorization of the court but from this moment on they are detained illegally without the sanction of the court. That is where the sort of encroachments lay. The police officers should have brought the defendants before the judge. They should have given details about the result of their investigation of the case to the court. It should have been the judge who should have determined if the case is  liable. It should have been the court which decides to grant or deny bail for the defendants based on the details presented to the court. They have closed the case at the first instance court and kept the defendants illegally (translator’s addition) without all these procedures. That is why I said it is a breach of law.

DAWIT: What will be next for the defendants? What can you do for them?

AMAHA: I will start a lawsuit on the behalf of the defendants. I need to guard the physical freedom of the defendants. I will wait until Monday since I have to get details about their lawsuit which they said they will begin on the defendants. I should learn details such as where and when will the lawsuits carry on.

DAWIT: So where will you launch the lawsuit to safeguard the individual freedom of the defendants and to require the police to bring the defendants before a judge or into court?

AMAHA: I will start the lawsuit at the Federal High Court.

DAWIT: Since last week the bloggers and journalists are allowed to be visited by their loved ones with the exception of Abel Wabela. What is the reason for him? Have you tried to find out the reason?

AMAHA: I have had a permission to visit the detainees at least once a week. Even though it is just for a single day I had a chance to speak with eight of them whom I represent in the court. Now I am told that the permission is limited to meet with just one of the detainees within a day. By this pace it would take me about four weeks to speak to all eight of the detainees. This is another serious breach of law. The defendants’ constitutional right of speaking with their lawyers should be respected.

Regarding Abel I have heard that he have some disagreements with the detectives who are assigned to investigate his case. But I should confirm this from Abel himself.

DAWIT: We have heard that the bloggers and journalists are forced to make false confessions. They were under extreme duress to make a clean breast of actions they have never participated and documents they have never produced. What does the law say about admissibility of confessions that are induced through coercion? Please tell me details especially in relation with anti-terrorism law?

AMAHA: Regarding confessions made to police officers the criminal procedure has established a series of rules. Confessions that are reportedly induced through coercion are not that admissible before the court or the judge. People should not be forced to confess on themselves.

DAWIT: It is expected the other three group of bloggers will be brought to court this afternoon (Monday). Considering what happened on Saturday will you anticipate the blogger to be brought before the court?

AMAHA: No I don’t expect they will be brought but I will honor the date and I will be in attendance

DAWIT: Thank you!

Note: This is not a literal translation (word to word translations) but contextual translations. Translated by Endalkachew Chala.

Zone9 bloggers are expected to be brought before judge in the early hours of Saturday

Six of the detained bloggers among which three are freelance journalists are expected to be brought at Arada first instance court on which they have appeared five times without meaningful ‘charge’. All of the detainees were allowed to have a limited access to visitors earlier this week. The detainees reported to their visitors that the police have closed their investigation and the pre-trial hearing might be over this week bringing a ‘legal’ case against the bloggers and journalists.

Cut off from the rest of world

The bloggers and journalists were detached from the rest of the world and they did not have a communication amongst themselves as well. Their subjugators never allowed them to have any form of communication. They reported to their visitors that they did not know what was going on outside their confinement. Befeqadu joked about the World Cup is about to be over before it began. No access to media, not even to government media. They were completely cut off from the rest of world.

Forced Confessions

The bloggers and journalists are all forced to make false confessions. They were told that Zone9 is a political secret operative not a blog. In his last hearing Befeqadu reported to the court that he was forced to sign a false confession by his investigators. The purpose of the signature is to base their charges on their own ‘confessions’. The assumption is if the bloggers and journalists have not engaged in an illegal activity they would not confess about it. This is to give false impression the public which do not have access to media other than government held media that the bloggers have confessed in engaging in illicit activities

Vowed to proof their innocence

Among the journalists who are detained Tesfalem joked ‘if we are lucky we will be charged in our next hearing’. Tesfalem reported that among the ‘evidence’ that have been brought against him by his investigators were two news stories which he has tweeted and re-tweeted from Addis based Ethiopian newspaper called the Reporter. Regardless of their forced false confessions they vowed to proof their innocence to the sham court. They have told their visitors they hopefully show the bogus nature of their accusations

Terrorism Charges

In remarkable shift from earlier allegations of working foreign human right NGOs the government is now cooking up terrorism charges. In his recent interview with the BBC Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has told the interviewer his journalism profession or blogging will not protect him from terrorism charges. Though most people don’t take him seriously since they consider him as doll of the ruling TPLF elites(the inner circle of the ruling regime), this might be a message they wanted him to convey.

Endalk Chala

Why Ethiopia criminalizes online free speech? Research round-up – review

Why does a country of about 90 million populations (Second in Africa next to Nigeria) with an Internet penetration of less than 2 percent need to criminalize an online free speech? It looks absurd right? Not exactly, considering government of Ethiopia’s inherent feudalistic desire to grip on every bit of information in the society criminalizing an online freedom of speech is something that is not unexpected.

The Ethiopian government’s record in handling the issues of freedom of expression which are enshrined in its own constitution is dreadful and it is reprehensible for a government that pride itself for lifting millions of people out of ‘poverty’. The issue of lifting millions of people out of poverty is dubious and it is usually calculated using data that comes from a statistical authority which is in the pocket of the ruling party. (More on that later) The matter is well documented in various researches and reports. Here is how the Ethiopian government rolls on the research reports. Understandably the reports are all from foreign based NGOs or members of Western academic institutes as there are neither academic nor civil society organizations which are allowed to operate freely in Ethiopia.

While the rest of African countries are enjoying a relatively superior level of access to the global information system via the Internet the monopolistic control of EthioTelecom, the only ISP in the country, by Ethiopian government hinders access to the majority of Ethiopians. The government claims that they are holding on the telecom sector because they believe it is only government not the private sector which can work towards realizing the objective of universal access of the Internet. But is the Ethiopian government working for the objective they set for themselves as achieving universal access of the Internet? Forget the cut-off date for the realization of this objective and the answer is no. Studies frequently have shown that beside meager level of access to telecom services the quality of the service is dreadfully bad.

The perseverance of such bad services is not without cause and for a detailed analysis of one of the cause which is corruption, see the WORLD BANK’s chapter eight report of the 2013. Corruption in the Telecommunications Sector in Ethiopia: A Preliminary Overview.

Most of the current news reports on the matter exclusively focused on describing the repression of journalists and bloggers and their report is about episode in time, with less or no political and social context of the country in which the media operates. A Sub-Saharan African media expert and journalism professor, Terje S. Skjerdal professor at Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication, Kristiansand, Norway has made Ethiopian media and journalism his fiefdom of study over a number of researches now, about Ethiopia’s censorship, the roles of Ethiopian States in keeping media under their grip, about digital diasporas, about the fine between journalism and activism. In 2012 with his PhD thesis Terje show how journalism values are in a constant conflict in Ethiopian state media culture. They are all worth reading.

Even though too few there have been some excellent research reports about Ethiopia’s new media politics and repression. In this regard Iginio Gagliardone’s New media and the developmental state in Ethiopia is a superb piece of research report which tries to put the repression of the new media in perspective. The annual Freedom House report titled Freedom on the Net is a good starting place for those want to have a contextual understanding of the repression.

Elsewhere, if someone wonders to know the legal protection of freedom of expression, there are two papers worth your time. In 2010 Gedion Timothewos has written about the jurisprudential dearth of freedom of expression in Ethiopia. Despite a poplar claim that says freedom of expression has at least a constitutional protection Gedion argues there are fairly high amount of limitations imposed on freedom of expression in Ethiopia through duly enacted laws .It available here. The other one is Tracy J. Ross’s paper which analyses Ethiopia’s press law. You can read it here.

Endalk Chala