NEW YORK—The release from prison of five bloggers and journalists from the Zone 9 collective in Ethiopia ahead of President Obama’s visit this month is a step in the right direction, but must be followed by the release of the four Zone 9 members still in prison and the dropping of all charges against the group, PEN American Center said today.

The Zone 9 bloggers, a collective of Ethiopian writers whose website produced social and political commentary often critical of the government, were initially arrested in April 2014. They were charged under Ethiopia’s sweeping anti-terrorism law for their connections with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and writings that were critical of the government. Tesfalem Waldyes, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, and Zelalem Kiberet were released July 8; Mahlet Fantahun and Edom Kassaye were let out the following day.

“The release of these writers is cause for celebration, but the celebration is short-lived. Four of their Zone 9 colleagues and a number of other journalists remain in jail facing completely baseless terrorism charges for the simple act of expression,” said Karin Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN. “Ethiopia needs to release its incarcerated journalists not just as a diplomatic spectacle for President Obama ahead of his visit, but to honor and uphold the right to free expression enshrined in the country’s constitution.”

Also released July 9 is Reeyot Alemu, a Feteh columnist who was arrested in 2011 under anti-terrorism laws and sentenced to 14 years in prison, reduced to five on appeal.  Alemu had served more than four years by the time of her release, suffering serious maltreatement in prison, including denial of access to medical care.

Ethiopia is a major ally of the United States in the fight against Islamist extremist group Al-Shabaab in eastern Africa. The Ethiopian government has used the fight against extremism as justification to enact wide-ranging anti-terrorism laws. Ethiopia uses these laws to charge and jail writers who are political dissidents and civil society advocates like the Zone 9 bloggers and Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist and writer who is a leading advocate for press freedom and free expression and winner of the 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.


Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S. writers working to bring down barriers to free expression worldwide.

Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression Programs: [email protected], (646) 779.4822
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: [email protected], (646) 779.4830