Zelalem Workagegnehu,(also known as Zola) is an Ethiopian blogger who contributed to the independent diaspora-based blog, De Birhan, which covers news related to Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, as well as other news sites. Before his arrest he was preparing to launch a blog with his friends and was also studying for his Master’s degree. He was arrested on 8 July 2014, during what the Committee to Protect Journalists described as a ‘mass crackdown on opposition leaders and social media activists ahead of the 2015 elections.’ He was held without charge until October 2014 when he was finally charged under the ATP with terrorism-related offences. His alleged activities included facilitating and organising a digital security training in order to terrorize the country, being a member of the diaspora-based opposition group Ginbot 7 (which the government has designated a terrorist group) and using social media to recruit members for Ginbot 7, which news reports indicated that no evidence was provided regarding his alleged links to Ginbot 7 to bring about an Arab Spring-style revolution and violently dismantle the Ethiopian constitution. He was charged alongside a group of nine other defendants that included a number of active politicians and social media activists.
The charges against Zelalem Workagegnehu were eventually changed from article 4 to article 7 of the ATP and some of the accusations dropped, and he was found guilty on 15 April 2016 of violating article 7(1), in relation to allegedly recruiting members for Ginbot 7. He was sentenced to five years and two months in prison on 10 May 2016 by the Lideta Federal High Court. Workagegnehu was originally held in Kilinto prison but has reportedly been transferred to Zeway Prison, 140 km South of Addis Ababa. His appeal hearing is scheduled for 6 July 2016 and will be heard via TeleCourt, a videoconferencing and satellite internet remote trial system.
PEN International has learned that blogger Zelalem Workagegnehu’s appeal against his sentence of five years and two months in prison on terrorism charges will be heard on 6 July 2016. Detained since July 2014, Workagegnehu was found guilty on 15 April 2016 of violating article 7(1) of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP), and sentenced on 10 May 2016. PEN International is deeply concerned by his sentencing as he appears to have been jailed for his peaceful activism on social media in violation of his right to freedom of expression which is protected under both the Ethiopian Constitution (Article 29) and international human rights treaties to which Ethiopia is a state party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
PEN International calls on the Ethiopian authorities to accept Zelalem Workagegnehu’s appeal and overturn his conviction and sentence.