Ethiopian bloggers were among the first to report on a court's shock decision to convict 38 opposition politicians of a range of serious charges including “outrages against the constitution” earlier this week. (Here is the BBC story on the trial, and past GlobalVoices coverage.)
Mainstream journalists and observers were caught unawares by the guilty verdict handed down against prominent members of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD), including its leader Hailu Shawel and the mayor elect of the capital Addis Ababa Berhanu Nega.
But bloggers – some of whom were in court – had the first posts online within an hour of the judges’ announcement.
The politicians were arrested in the aftermath of violence and street protests that erupted following Ethiopia's controversial 2005 national elections. Authorities accused them of provoking the violence and planning to overthrow the government.
The CUD members have long dismissed the trial as a political sham – and most of them have refused to defend themselves. They are due to be sentenced in early July. Many of them could face the death penalty or life imprisonment.
The second the news [of the verdict] came in over my mobile, a huge thunder and hail storm broke over Addis.
The ominous weather echoed the fears of many bloggers, who initially thought the decision would lead to further clashes on the streets. In the end, there were no protests, but the disquiet remained. Just Thinking summed up many people's feelings in Damaged beyond repair?:
The sun wan’t shining in Addis today. As if to match the mood in the city, it was a cloudy and gloomy day. Not that people were not going about thier business. In fact, I was stunned by the normalcy of the day around me. But most people I’ve talked to, friends and acquaintances, said they found the verdict a rude awakening. Most of us foolishly thought EPRDF [the ruling government coalition] might want to fix things up and would let people like Dr. Birhanu Nega go free.
The Other Side was also surprised by the lack of public protest, but set out to explain it in In the wake of the verdict.
I was wondering why there hasn’t yet been any visible reaction to the verdict here in Addis. Some say that the post-election momentum is gone and most have forgotten, but I know otherwise. I know that people still care, and will say so as often as they think it safe.
Tobian Thinktank expressed his dismay at the move in Another Step Backwards:
Sometimes I try hard, very hard, to convince myself that our current leaders are good meaning co-Ethio citizens who care about our country… in their own ways which I am unable to understand. They're just embittered by the long struggle experience coupled with infantile Ethiopian politics (not to imply that they're any better at it). Then they do shit like this and my little theory crumbles.
Enset struggled to find a positive note in Freedom on Trial!:
To all peace loving people of Ethiopia, yesterday June 11, 2007 was both a day of sorrow and a day of jubilation. It was a day of sorrow because, at least temporally, freedom itself was on trial in the Ethiopian justice system. Yet it is a day of joy because we have heroes who gave us their yesterday so that we all can live for today.