By Tadias Staff
Published: Wednesday, September 16th, 2015
New York (TADIAS) — The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) awarded this year’s International Press Freedom prize to members of Ethiopia’s Zone 9 blogging collective: Abel Wabella, Atnaf Berhane, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnail Feleke, Zelalem Kibret, Befekadu Hailu, Soleyana S Gebremichael, Endalk Chala, and Jomanex Kasaye. Six of the nine bloggers were arrested in April 2014 in connection with their online advocacy work.
“By awarding the Zone 9 bloggers with its International Press Freedom Award, CPJ recognizes the important role that bloggers play in environments where traditional media are weak or have been all but shuttered by financial hardship and direct or indirect state attacks,” CPJ said in a press release.
Two of the six imprisoned bloggers, Mahlet Fantahun and Zelalem Kiberet, have since been released from prison after spending over a year behind bars.
CPJ also highlights that Soleyana S Gebremichael, Endalk Chala and Jomanex Kasaye remain in exile. “Soleyana has been charged in absentia.”
“The Zone 9 blogging collective was formed in May 2012 in response to the evisceration of the independent press and the narrowing of space for free expression,” CPJ said. “The name, “Zone 9,” is derived from the zones in Kality Prison, the main jail where Ethiopia’s political prisoners, including several journalists, are held. While Kality Prison is organized into eight different zones, the bloggers refer to the entire country as “Zone 9” because of Ethiopia’s lack of democratic freedoms,” one of the bloggers told CPJ.
The press release noted: “In July 2015, weeks before U.S. President Barack Obama visited the country, Ethiopian authorities released Mahlet and Zelalem.”
CPJ added that Ethiopia has released “at least six journalists from prison in 2015, but is still holding around a dozen journalists in jail in relation to their work.”