The Global War on Terror is Ethiopia’s War on Freedom of Expression: Key Lessons and Trends from Court Data

Many people must wonder why the court cases of Zone9 bloggers and journalists is kept on adjourned and re-adjourned time and again and what will their fates is going to look like after such a pointlessly stretched out trial. Although these trials are undoubtedly show trials, looking back on sample court cases of Ethiopia’s journalists of the last 9 years offer clues into the bloggers’ future.

The data which was collected from the registrar of Ethiopia’s Federal High Court show that the majority of the journalists charged with crimes of any sort are actually found to be guilty. The reports on many facets of appalling state of Ethiopia’s freedom of expression seem incomplete and anecdotal, but data-rich reports can help deepen perspective. Hence; this data show there is no doubt that Ethiopian journalists who faced these show trials are going to be found guilty and the data further shows that trials are all extended. For instance Temesegen Desalegn whose criminal defamation & outrage against constitutional order charges are going well over two years and it is still counting. Eskiner Nega’s court case took more than two years of trial which ended up in sentencing him 18 years of prison terms. Beyond its wider implication of making the business of lawyering helpless, it gives an impression that Article 29 of Ethiopia’s Constitution which deals with Freedom of Expression has no use.

As I write this blog post five weekly publications which cannot average a joint circulation of 20K per week are all charged with terrorism. It is confirmed that at least three of them will stop publication as their journalists went to exile. Since the controversial 2005 Ethiopian election the Ethiopian government has already prosecuted more than 200 hundred people pertinent with freedom of expression with numerous criminal charges and shut dawn hundreds of weekly magazines and newspapers and sends most of the journalists of theses media organizations went into exile (more on this later). It has deposed several state media journalists in relation with their work and the campaign shows no sign of relenting.

Based on my own experience and the sample data provided it is obvious that if Ethiopian journalists are charged with a crime of any sort (defamation, terrorism and treason) there is 95 % or more chance that they are probably guilty. It can only be said that Ethiopia is in a cycle of history where freedom of expression is only right when you praise the ruling regime or else you will be labeled terrorist. In the minds of Ethiopia’s rulers’ truth has no meaning and they don’t have barrier to shame. In fact in his latest blog post from prison Befeqadu put it poignantly that EPRDF, the ruling regime, do not have sense of decency that prevent them to hand dawn judgment on innocent people.

Kind request for crowd sourcing court data: People who have access to court data regarding freedom of expression please contact us. The above table needs to be completed.

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