“From the rising of the sun to its setting, from the [four] compass points of the earth, arises a mighty cry — #freezone9bloggers!” – @feathersproject
When Ethiopia’s Zone9 bloggers and their journalist colleagues were charged with terrorism two weeks ago, our community members put their heads together to decide how we might help the bloggers, four of whom are Global Voices translators.
Nigerian writer and GV community leader Nwachukwu Egbunike responded to the call with zeal. “Something just occurred to me,” he wrote to our mailing list. “The last Twitter Campaign was led by Anglophone Africa but had a global impact. Can we have a truly global campaign this time around, tweeting in various languages at a specific time for the #Zone9Bloggers? At least for starters: English, French and Portuguese Africa calling for their release, same day, same time with same hashtag!” After a few days of organizing local teams in as many time zones as we could cover — from Hong Kong to Islamabad to Cairo to San Francisco — a global, multilingual tweetathon was born. Nwach helped kick things off with a series of inspiring tweets for our global community:
Ethiopian bloggers and social mediaites in country and abroad were among some of the most prolific participants in the event. Ethiopian women's rights activist and Vital Voices fellow Selamawit Adugna tweeted:
Human rights blogger @Bereket, who blogs at AddCafe urged followers:
Former leader of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council Yoseph Mulugeta, a highly regarded expert on Ethiopia judicial system, tweeted:
Exiled Ethiopian media expert and civil liberties advocate Fasiledes created another in a series of Storify roundups about the campaign, which have been widely shared since their April 25 arrest.
Although many participants come from Ethiopia or have direct ties to the situation, messages of support from around the globe flooded the hashtag. Mozambican journalism student Alexandre Zerinho tweeted:
United against threats to free expression #FreeZone9Bloggers
Some tweeted images along with their messages of support:
Oiwan Lam, a Hong Kong-based media freedom advocate and China editor for Global Voices’ Advocacy project, tweeted:
Ethiopia's suppression of Internet speech is very strange, because adult illiteracy in this country is 61%, and the Internet penetration rate is only 1.5% [how can these remarks constitute a real threat to the regime? … Is the “Chinese model” doing mischief here?
Cuban blogger Sandra Abd’Allah Alvarez, who writes about race and politics from Havana, tweeted:
Echoing many other tweets on the topic, Berlin-based open knowledge advocate Zara Rahman expressed shock over charges against the bloggers that condemned their use of “Security in a Box”, a digital security training tool used widely by human rights activists around the globe:
— Zara Rahman (@zararah) July 31, 2014
Sudanese blogger and human rights activist Dalia Haj-Omar challenged critics to acknowledge that authorities have violated the bloggers’ fundamental right to free expression.
— Dalia Haj-Omar (@daloya) July 31, 2014
Ethiopian human rights advocate @Jomanex reminded followers that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met and chatted with detained Zone9 blogger Natnael Feleke at an Addis forum on development and innovation in 2013, and positioned this in contrast with terror charges issued by authorities under the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). He tweeted:
— Jomanex (@jomanex) July 31, 2014
Just days after the bloggers’ arrest, Secretary Kerry visited Addis Ababa and publicly condemned the arrest, but to no avail. Argawn Ashine expressed disappointment with the inconsistent positions taken on the issue by different U.S. government agencies.
— Argaw Ashine (@argawnmg) July 31, 2014
Unfortunately, the position of the U.S. State Department is not the sole determining factor of U.S. policy towards Ethiopia, the second most populous nation in Africa. As its most stable ally in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia receives millions of dollars worth of military and economic aid from the U.S. government each year, in a partnership that human rights defenders believe trumps the priorities of other government agencies and media freedom advocates.
On Saturday, August 2, supporters in the United States gathered at the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington D.C., where they lit 900 candles to commemorate 100 days since the bloggers’ arrest. The event (Facebook page here) was poignantly named, “Zone Light”. Photographs and video from the event, recorded by EthioTube, can be found here.
Although their trial was scheduled to begin on August 4, state prosecutors have reportedly requested an extension of several days’ time — the trial has now been adjourned to until August 20. Meanwhile, Zone9 member Endalk Chala, who lives in the U.S., reports that five Ethiopian newspapers were issued criminal charges today:
— endalk2006 (@endalk2006) August 4, 2014
On the ground, online and behind the scenes, the global effort to secure the bloggers’ release will continue in the weeks ahead. For updates on the case and campaign, visit the Trial Tracker blog and watch the #FreeZone9Bloggers hashtag on Twitter.