NAIROBI - Ethiopian authorities have released five bloggers and journalists after they spent more than a year in prison, but four others remain behind bars. Their release Wednesday comes before a visit to Ethiopia later this month by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Media rights groups and legal practitioners welcomed the decision of the Ethiopian government prosecutor to drop terrorism charges against some of the detained journalists and bloggers.
The bloggers' lawyer, Ameha Mekonnen, says the ruling raises more questions and urged authorities to apply the law equally to all those accused.
“We accepted the decision; there are a lot of questions to be raised," Mekonnen said, "for instance, why the other bloggers were not released. The law is not for others not to be released as long as the prosecution has completed that three journalists and two bloggers should be released. So I do not see any other reason not to release others.”
Four other people, from the blogging collective known as Zone 9, remain in jail. The bloggers have been writing mostly social and political issues critical of the government.
What they're accused of
Authorities accused the bloggers of planning terrorist attacks and colluding with U.S.-based opposition group, Ginbot 7, which Ethiopia considers a terrorist organization.
The Committee to Protect Journalists' East Africa Representative, Tom Rhodes, says the organization welcomes the move by Ethiopian officials, but is still concerned about the remaining bloggers and journalists.
“I am also concerned for the journalists who remain in jail," he said. "We are talking about Befaqadu, Atnaf, Abel and Natnael according to the news report. At the moment they are saying these guys are the so-called masterminds and others were simply accomplices, so I fear maybe in the long haul before these remaining four finally get the justice they deserve and are released.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 12 other journalists are still imprisoned, most facing terrorism charges, which makes Ethiopia the second-worst place for journalists to work in Africa, after neighboring Eritrea.
President Obama is expected to visit Ethiopia later this month as part of an Africa tour that includes a stop in Kenya, where he will participate in a global entrepreneurship summit.
In Ethiopia, Obama is expected to meet the country’s top officials and hold a separate meeting with African Union leaders.