Sunday, July 12, 2015

Abrupt release of Ethiopian bloggers and journalists, an '#ObamaEffect'?

Photo by FissehaFantahun
On the same day (July 8, 2015), and just few hours before this unexpected action which stunned the defendants; their attorney and the whole world, a story was running about jailed journalists Edom Kassaye under the title "An Ethiopian Journalist Jailed for Her Integrity". And a rumor surfaced on the social media around 7 o'clock (Ethiopian local time)  in the evening about the release of Edom Kassaye, Mahlet Fantahun, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis and Tesfalem Woldyes. 

The mood was mixed among twitters: confusion, happiness, disbelief, suspicion just to mention but a few. Around 8 o'clock, the news was broken by wazema, an Ethiopian diaspora podcast in Sweden which is run by Mesfin Negash et. al. who was an ex managing editor of AddisNeger and convicted by Ethiopian government with terrorism charges.

However, there was no word from the government media until the next day. The government affiliated 'private' broadcaster Fana revealed that 'Five so-called bloggers in the Soliana Shimelis et-al case released in Ethiopia'.
Photo by FissehaFantahun
Some were jubilant while others were cautious and skeptics of Ethiopian government's abrupt move which happened after the court has finished hearing evidences and was due to deliver a guilty-not-guilty verdict the coming week. Some even considered it as an 'Obama effect' where Ethiopian officials are in a preemptive charm-offensive ahead of US President's official visit to the country. It is to be recalled that a few days before this sudden action of the Ethiopian government, thousands of expat Ethiopians in the US made a huge protest in front of White-House demanding Barack Obama not visit Ethiopia.

If one dissects these various approaches, it appears that there are two main camps: pro-government groups on one side and the rest on the other side;the former is defending/justifying the Ethiopian government's action while family members and friends of the released/jailed bloggers and journalists; international media outlets; net-citizens and international human-rights and freedom of expression watchdogs who demand the government to release all Ethiopian prisoners of conscience. Members of the net-citizens continue to include the hash-tag #FreeZone9Bloggers in their social media posts and recommended others to do the same until everybody is free.

As result, #FreeZone9Bloggers, continued to be trending and has become the second largest hash-tag mentioned on twitter, at least here in Sweden.
In an exclusive with VOA Amharic, the released bloggers and journalists as well as father/attorney of columnist Reeyot Alemu expressed their mixed and shocking feelings towards the abrupt government's action. Zelalem Kibret a.k.a Zola said he has this survivor's guilt for being released because his four colleagues who were accused with the same charges still remain behind bars. A pro-government Facebooker replied to him in a cruel manner. 

nobody is holding you back to go back [to the prison]. The food, the drinks and the rent are free. It's better for you there especially at this time when life is very expensive in the country.

Meanwhile aigaforum, an Ethiopian diaspora pro-government media in the US made a complaint against CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) for taking sides with the groups which it alleges are terrorists not journalists.
Well, others are urging Mr. Obama to visit Ethiopia as often as possible so that all Ethiopian prisoners of conscience could be released.

According CPJ's latest reports, Ethiopia ranks the second journalists' jailer in Africa after to Eritrea and is listed among the top ten censored countries in the world. 
Our message, nobody is free until everybody is free! Free Eskinder Nega, Woubshet Taye, Abel Wabela, Befqadu Hailu, Atenaf Berhane, Andualem Aragae, Zelalem Werqalemahu and thousands Ethiopian prisoners of conscience who are being incarcerated for exercising their constitutional and birth-rights.  

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