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Ethiopian Court Acquits Zone 9 Bloggers of Terrorism Charges

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Ethiopia’s Zone 9 bloggers have been acquitted of the terrorism charges against them. While three bloggers are to be released, one still faces incitement charges and will have to appear in court again Wednesday.

After an Addis Ababa court acquitted the bloggers Friday morning, Zone 9 lawyer Ameha Mekonnen called the decision a landmark ruling, saying "the court emphasized that the government, and particularly the prosecutor, accused them for plotting, inciting and preparing terrorism."

"But the court was saying all the evidence brought are weak or do not prove at all terrorism," Mekonnen added. "Even the court went further and has said many of the writing fall within the right of freedom of expression. The court explicitly has said criticizing the government is not a crime.”

Six bloggers with the group known as Zone 9 and three affiliated freelance journalists were arrested and detained in April 2014. Their court case attracted extensive social media attention. In July, just before U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ethiopia, some of the defendants were suddenly released.

The court's ruling should have led to an immediate release of most of the others, but late Friday afternoon the bloggers were still in custody.

One blogger, Befekadu Hailu, will not be released and has to appear in court again Wednesday. Ameha said although the terrorism charges against him were dropped, he still faces charges of incitement.

“The court picked his confession and some of the writings he has made and posted on the Internet," said the lawyer. "There are some writings he translated and posted in the Internet referring to the person who is known to have initiated the revolution in Egypt. Some of his writings, the court was saying, they have the power to instigate the public and they have the power to destabilize the public.”

Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch frequently appealed to the Ethiopian government requesting the release of the bloggers.