“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:
Though tongues may differ, yet with many tongues we raise a mighty clamour for our common humanity, #FreeZone9Bloggers — Nwachukwu Egbunike (@feathersproject) July 31, 2014
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:
Dear zone9ers, I can never imagine what u going through in that prison just because you choose to care about your country #FreeZone9Bloggers — Selamawit Adugna (@selseladu) July 31, 2014
Human rights blogger @Bereket, who blogs at AddCafe urged followers:
The best way to pay homage to @zone9ners is to be like them: to care & speak out. Right now, l care & say out loud >> #FreeZone9Bloggers — Bereket (@Berehket) July 31, 2014
Former leader of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council Yoseph Mulugeta, a highly regarded expert on Ethiopia judicial system, tweeted:
19page fabricated charges but no mention of Zone9 by name.Not even once.The brand surely terrifies enemies of free speech #FreeZone9Bloggers — Yoseph Mulugeta (@YosephMulugeta) July 18, 2014
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:
Juntos contra o impedimento da liberdade de expressão. #FreeZone9Bloggers — Alexandre Zerinho (@Zerinho_b4) July 31, 2014
United against threats to free expression #FreeZone9Bloggers
Some tweeted images along with their messages of support:
Respect & Solidarity for @Zone9ners from Berlin @KonstantinNotz #FreeZone9Bloggers pic.twitter.com/V9KjDmCVZJ — Gruen Digital (@gruen_digital) July 31, 2014
Oiwan Lam, a Hong Kong-based media freedom advocate and China editor for Global Voices’ Advocacy project, tweeted:
埃塞俄比亞打壓互聯網言論的做法非常奇怪，因為這個國家61%成年人文盲，互聯網的滲透率只有1.5%，言論又怎可能對政權構成實質威脅？… 是「中國模式」作怪嗎？ #FreeZone9Bloggers http://t.co/wX9gQfjY0k — oiwan (@oiwan) July 31, 2014
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:
Liberen a los @Zone9ers… ¡porque bloguear no es un crimen! #FreeZone9Bloggers http://t.co/gQyCLBasqF
— Negracubana (@Negracubana) July 31, 2014
Free the @Zone9ers…because blogging is not a crime! #FreeZone9Bloggers http://t.co/gQyCLBasqF
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:
Speechless that charges against jailed bloggers in Ethiopia include “used Security in a Box” #freezone9bloggers http://t.co/mHszND2rwT
— 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.
@ageazib any government afraid of bloggers must be v weak, since all they have are their word #freezone9bloggers #Ethiopia @retweetethiopia
— 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:
For Us & @JohnKerry he's the future of #Ethiopia for EPRDF he is a Terrorist. #FreeZone9Bloggers @bbczeinabbadawi pic.twitter.com/tNAcET08fl
— 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.
#USAfricaSummit Its sad to see @BarackObama rolling red carpet for dictators and criminals such as #Ethiopia/ n regime. #FreeZone9Bloggers
— 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:
So five #Ethiopia-n newspapers & magazines face criminal charges just today.Things are getting worse & worse by day #FreeZone9Bloggers
— 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.