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Ethiopia Drops Terrorism Charges Against Bloggers

A federal court in Addis Abeba made the decision to acquit four members of the Zone9 blogging collective. They had been in prison for 539 days.

Posted on October 16, 2015, at 10:29 a.m. ET

A federal court in Addis Abeba has dropped terrorism charges against a group of four bloggers, a year and a half since they were first arrested, the Addis Standard reported.

Befeqadu Hailu, Natnael Feleke, Atnaf Berahane, and Abel Wabela — part of the Zone9 collective of bloggers — were all acquitted Friday, along with journalists Tesfalem Wadyes Asmamaw Hailegiorgis and Edom Kassaye.

The case had been widely condemned by activist groups as an attempt to stifle freedom of the press.

Speaking after the court ruling, the bloggers' lawyer, Ameha Mekonnen, said: "They shouldn't have stayed in prison for so long — 539 days — in fact they shouldn't have been prosecuted in the first place."

"The court said all the evidence presented was very weak to prove they were planning any kind of terrorism — the court connected their writings to freedom of expression," Mekonnen said, according to AFP.

Five other members of Zone9 were released in July.

While the court decided to drop the terrorism charges against all the accused, Befeqadu Hailu still faces charges of incitement, Ethiopian human rights activist Mesfin Negash — who has been in touch with the bloggers' families — told the BBC. Hailu remains in custody.

A fifth blogger — Soleyana Gebremichael — was acquitted of all charges in absentia, as she is in exile in the U.S., AFP said.

The bloggers were arrested in April 2014, and were accused of planning attacks and cooperating with a U.S.-based opposition group called Ginbot 7 that has been designated as a terrorist group by the Ethiopian authorities, according to the BBC.

The case spawned the hashtag #FreeZone9Bloggers on Ethiopian social media, and supporters of the group tweeted their reaction to the verdict Friday:

An endless witch-hunt by a powerful gov't couldn't find a single crime in #FreeZone9Bloggers because they were innocent to begin with. Glad!


Soli - Free Befqe - Free Atnaf - Free Natty - Free that's why I stand with them!!!! #FreeZone9Bloggers

Thank You World for Supporting and Echoing our long lasted #FreeZone9Bloggers campaign! it proves that SOLIDARITY IS THE GREATEST ENERGY!

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.