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Message to an Ethiopian Blogger: Mahlet Fantahun, You Are Not Alone

Mahlet Fantahun and Edom Kassaye, the female members of the group.

Mahlet Fantahun (second from right) stands with Edom Kassaye, a jailed journalist.

Before she was arrested, Ethiopian blogger Mahlet Fantahun worked as a data expert in the Ministry of Health of Ethiopia. Mahlet is part of the collective blogging group known as Zone9. The group take their name from an Ethiopian state prison in Addis Ababa called Kality, which has eight zones. The bloggers named their project Zone9, after the “proverbial prison in which all Ethiopians live.”

I write this blog post in solidarity with Mahlet Fantahun and her group, Zone9.

A  quick drawing of Mahlet Fantahun by Melody Sundberg

Drawing of Mahlet Fantahun by Melody Sundberg

I have never been to Ethiopia. I have however spent years in East Africa, and I am very aware that Mahlet's everyday life and the risks she has taken are very different from the life I live. People like Mahlet who choose to face these risks, despite the consequences, have my deepest respect.

I do not know what it is like to spend so many days in an Ethiopian prison. I imagine some days are worse than others. I imagine that one of the hardest parts is the fact that it is unclear how many more days you are going to spend there. I imagine that one of the worst parts is when you think of your family and friends, who are worried for your health and your future. I imagine the frustration with the legal system. The frustration with being imprisoned for doing something that really should be an asset to a community: social engagement and taking responsibility for the future of your country.

In late April, I took part in a conference in Copenhagen on Global Media Freedom with over 100 journalists and media practitioners from around the world. One question was repeated:

The question was not answered, at least not in detail. But a representative from Global Voices during the conference in Copenhagen did mention how they have worked to create awareness of what is going on in Ethiopia. How to act in solidarity. There is always something you can do.

Writing one single blog post is not going to bring Mahlet and the other imprisoned bloggers out of prison. This is much rather about keeping the story alive. Of not staying silent.

The work of Zone9 bloggers is about taking a stand and responsibility. It is about acting, not only for an individual gain but for Ethiopia. It is about working for constructive social change.

Right now, I just want Mahlet and Group Zone9 to know that they are not alone.

  • XX

    if you are from US, why do not you are about the Guantanamo,,,,why do not you leave us alone….. Write about Libya, Yemen, Syriaa

  • Gideon

    What a jock! this is not journalism, this is the usual hulla…bulla about nothing and picking on Ethiopia and African nations. If you realy wanted to report about human rights abuse, you do very well know where to go and expose them. since those countries how are abusing humanity under the blanket of democracy and the petrodollars of the emirates are getting free rides from the very reporters who are crying fouel, like globavoicesonline and the likes and therefore you the servants and the mouse piece of those traditional human rights abusers needs to stop being tools fore human rights abusers and be on the right side of history.

    • Tigi

      Gedion u really think those zone 9 children are the so called
      U know it I know it they r not
      Try to b nice
      Say free them they won’t harm any one I am telling you
      B nice n tell the government of Ethiopia
      To free them
      They will Winn 99 pcnt any way
      Free them please

  • Gideon

    She is not a political blogger, she is most definitely an assaylem sicker and her tricks failed her and got caught trying to instigate ethnic violence to make her blogger claim legitimate, what a farce! “globalvoicesonline” either represent the true victims of human right abused or find a real job, and stop being tools as well as being a sold out to the rich and famous.

    • Solo

      Gedion I don’t know what to say she can fly to USA any time she want ask have u ever read her blog ?

  • John

    This is awesome global solidarity for freedom of expression. She is suffering with leaders coming from rebel fighter who really do not know anything except ruling by gun!

  • Kpari

    Nice post Pernille. It’s heart rendering the political climate of reprehension and state violence on citizens of Ethiopia by a government entrusted with providing the common good. Great kudos for bringing the plight of Mahlet and other members of Zone 9 to global attention.

    Global Voices have earned not only my respect but also deep commendation for consistently keeping these group on the top burner. Thank you for celebrating their humanity. Thank you for sharing their pain. Thank you for showing the world consistently that the Ethiopian government needs to stand on the right side of history and international laws.

    The man dies in each of us, when in the face of tyranny we keep silent.

  • Gideon

    The usual anti ETHIOPIAN propaganda, organised by staunch enemies of ETHIOPIA from within and without, using young, old, male, female sale outs of ETHIOPIAN citizens, like the so called under the cover name of zone 9 bloggers, a militant name given by foreign entities of an anti ETHIOPIAN delirious looser groups of people who has no moral, ethical and religious obligations to anything they do; other than extreme hate to the nation of ETHIOPIA and it’s people.
    Unfortunately for them, their efforts to destabilize and fracture the ancient land, as well as society of ETHIOPIA will undoubtedly be in vain.

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  • Gideon

    I dare to challenge the writer of this article Mis. Pernille Baerendten to write an article similar to this very article, regarding the onslaughts of African Americans around the US cities for absolutely doing nothing except being blacks or about a British reporter, who was assassinated by the government for threatening to reveal a government secret of scandalous practice by national police officials, high level government officials, as well as including the royal family members.

    • Gideon those are also important stories, but surely you’ve already read about them elsewhere. The plight of African Americans has received worldwide attention and that’s good, but this article is about telling a story that HASN’T received huge global attention yet, even though it’s filled with just as much injustice.

      Thank you Pernille, this thoughtful post is exactly what Global Voices is all about!

    • King solo

      Gedion is the only one loves Ethiopia
      The rest is Terrorist
      Gedion n his followers r the only once love Ethiopia
      Do you really believe zone 9 bloggers r Terrorist
      They are anti Ethiopia
      Common your party will win the election
      U don’t have to put innocent people in jail
      One day you will say I am sorry
      Before it’s too late fix it instead of
      Accusing people
      Please don’t put journalist in jail

  • rwscid

    Given the tenor of the comments I would really appreciate more details on exactly what Mahlet blogged about, and why she was arrested. I agree that many westerners, myself included, are inclined to jump on ‘human rights’ or ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘democracy’ bandwagons we know precious little about, because we assume other countries are not so benevolently endowed with these attributes as is our own.

    I disagree that we should therefore ignore, or fail to express an opinion, when injustice occurs anywhere except in our own backyard.

    On the other hand, if you were one of those people who cheered when the ‘evil dictators’ Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gadaffi were finally toppled, you are hopefully enjoying a lifetime of substantial humility.

    • duniaduara

      It it a good question – what they blogged about. Global Voices (GV) has covered the case for quite a while – there is a lot of links on Global Voices which elaborate on different perspectives. However, I will admit that that could be much clearer, i.e. presented as links from this blog post.

      But – let me suggest some links here:

      The Zone 9 Blog – we blog because we care: – in Amharic.

      Wikipedia has a very clear description of the background, timeline etc. here:

      Melody Sundberg, who also writes for GV, has made an analysis here, where you also find a description of what led to the jailing: (direct link, it is also presented on GV site)

      Beza Tesfaye analyses here for Africa is a Country:

      All GV links on Ethiopia here:

      The thing is, it is not only about blogging and individuals, but other activities, too: ‘the group had campaigns about respecting the constitution, stopping censorship and respecting the right to demonstrate. The group also visited political prisoners, such as journalists Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu. They wanted to bring the publics’ attention to them by using social media. Zone 9 decided to collaborate with NGO:s – human right organizations – about the situation in Ethiopia regarding human rights and freedom of expression.’

      I have decided not to answer back the more cryptic comments to this blog post, but I will use this comment to also add that I do not present others than myself. I find it challenging that my acts of solidarity should be questioned as I originate from the West. I am a citizen, not a politician. I don’t always agree with my own elected parliamentarians. Therefore my blog post above is also written to Mahlet as an individual. In solidarity with a woman who is in jail because she believes in freedom of expression.

      Your point about cheering when dictators fall – what do you mean exactly? I have a Libyan friend who came to Denmark as a refugee around 1997, and who did feel relieved and revived when Ghaddafi fell. I lived in Serbia and worked and lived with people who formed the peaceful resistance to Milosevic. When he fell, it was a celebration.

      • rwscid

        Thanks for the links, which added greatly to my understanding.

        Re: dictators falling, after Ghaddafi’s fall I imagine Libyans living in Denmark might have a different opinion of the consequences than Libyans living in Libya, which at this point is more or less a failed state. The state of affairs in Iraq needs no comment. Serbia transitioned well after Milosevic was gone and there are certainly other examples in history where the outcome of revolution was generally favorable, as well as many examples where it was not.

        My point is simply this – we should be careful, and not assume things will obviously be better when the current leader is replaced. A fair number of Americans who voted for Barrack Obama certainly learned that lesson.

        In re-reading all the blog comments it seems they have not been made by people interested in a serious discussion of the situation. If my conclusion is in error, let me invite them to begin one now.

        • duniaduara

          I am glad to hear you found the links useful.

          I do not disagree with the fact that we should be careful when concluding. . The essential part is, at least how I see it, that there is always more than one part of the story. We do look at facts and we do deal with the facts seriously. Key part of the problem of this case however is lack of transparency and expression, but it is also repression and propaganda. And that makes this exercise difficult. It could also explain the type of some of the comments above.

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