Some of the bloggers arrested in 2014 for using their freedom of expression have been released. But as long as countless bloggers, journalists and people opposing the ruling party in Ethiopia are still behind bars, we cannot talk about real progress, the author argues.
The detention of the Zone 9 bloggers (a groups of Ethiopian bloggers writing about violations of human rights) in 2014 was condemned by the international community. Their release in October just a few days before the US president Barack Obama visited Ethiopia caused some ecstasy. This move was in part a response to the intense diplomatic and other pressure that the Ethiopian government had faced since the bloggers were arrested in April 2014. Unfortunately, the progress the release of the bloggers represented can be said insignificant for two main reasons.
1. There are still countless bloggers, journalists and people opposing the EPRDF regime behind bars with charges or falsely accused of crimes they never committed.
2. The bloggers have a constitutionally guaranteed right to exercise the right of self-expression.
An appeal is still pending, and the lengthy detentions meant a significant blow to the morals of Ethiopia’s budding community of digital activists, as it signified a deliberate disregard for constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression. It is also important to remember that the releases can in no way make up for the unfair incarceration and the physical and psychological abuses inflicted upon them by government security and the juridical system which solely serve the interest of the dictatorial regime.
The only TV station and FM radios have echoed the release of the bloggers as a demonstration of judicial independence while Ethiopian authorities have ignored the idea of compensation for the unlawful detention and maltreatment of the bloggers. In fact this is understandable for if the Ethiopian government were to pay compensation for the unlawful detentions and brutal killings, the government would be bankrupt.
The appeal is pending and there is a greater chance for rearrests than exoneration. This is a tactical move by the government to deter the bloggers and other activists from advocating about human rights. As a matter of fact, free thinking is considered a crime unless it is in good terms with the government and anyone who does otherwise risks imprisonment.
In addition to the real threat of imprisonment, the EPRDF makes use of widespread surveillance to maintain its dominance on the country’s independent media and civil society. In addition, the government routinely blocks access to online content that reveal its vicious acts. The presence of the ruling party at all levels of society has seriously repressed free discourse, making most Ethiopians live by looking over their shoulders like criminals. Ethiopians are increasingly wary of speaking against the government in any context, as the regime maintains a network of paid informants both online and off it.
It is a shame to see people bow to the evil that haunts most Ethiopians. In today’s world where money has become the driving force, politicians in the country are contracted to the EPRDF and its Machiavellian schemes thereby selling their souls to the devil. But what the regime fails to acknowledge is that people will always find the way to get their messages across the boarder and do whatever it takes to be heard. History shows that whether it is under apartheid in South Africa or under colonial India someone will rise and rally the people to freedom. We just have to pray for our Nelson Mandelas and Mahatma Gandhis.
Ethiopian Voices shall be heard!