Global Freedom of Expression

Federal Prosecutor v. Soleyana Shimeles Gebremariam and others (Zone 9 Bloggers)

Closed Mixed Outcome

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    October 16, 2015
  • Outcome
    Acquittal, Other
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Ethiopia, Africa
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law, Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Political Expression
  • Tags
    Blog, Internet, Terrorism

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

In April, 2014, the government of Ethiopia charged and arrested nine members of the Zone 9 Bloggers Collective as principal participants in planning, preparing, conspiring and inciting to execute terrorism under the Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and 2004 Criminal Code. Soliyana Shimeles Gebremariam, one of the founders of the Zone 9, was charged in absentia. In July 2015, the prosecutor dropped charges against five defendants who were subsequently released. on October 16, 2015, the Federal High Court of Ethiopia for 19th Criminal Bench acquitted the remaining four members of Zone 9 bloggers including the one charged in absentia.

Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and some information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. Global Freedom of Expression notes that media outlets may not provide complete information about this legal matter. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Zone 9 is an Ethiopian blog created by online activists and journalists with the core mission of voicing social and political issues in the country. [1] On April 25 and 26, 2014, the Ethiopian Police arrested nine members of Zone 9 for violating the Criminal Code of Ethiopia and its Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. [2] The prosecutor charged ten defendants (one of them in absentia) with committing the crimes of planning, preparing, conspiring, and inciting to execute terrorism under Article 32 and 38 of the Criminal Code, and Article 3 and 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.

In the amended complaint, the prosecutor alleged that the bloggers with the intent to endanger the security of the country, organized themselves in a clandestine group “to help them execute terrorist and violent activities.” [page 1] The complaint stated that the defendants allocated responsibilities “to dismantle the constitution and the constitutional order through organized terrorism and violence; to fulfill this plan and to inflame the public into violence, to incite the public for violence and to this end devised a strategy to operate and direct their activities in order to oust the constitutional regime through violence and organized other members who have not been apprehended.” [page 1] The government further alleged that the defendants worked with Ginbot Sebat(7), a terrorist group designated by the government, “in both receiving and giving of trainings for ways of by passing the government security forces and national telecommunications, leadership skills in protest and public incitement, the making and handling of explosive materials.” [page 2] Particularly, the prosecutor cited the blogger’s use of digital encryption in protecting the confidentiality of their data as evidence their covert acts against the government. [3]

The Federal High Court of 19th Criminal Branch presided the case.

[1] The Guardian, Ethiopia’s Jailing of Zone 9 Bloggers Has a Chilling Effect on Freedom of Expression, (Apr. 27, 2015),

[2] Global Voices, What You Need to Know About Ethiopia v. Zone 9 Bloggers, (July 17, 2015),

[3] Human Rights Watch, Ethiopia: Free Zone 9 Bloggers and Journalists, (Apr. 23, 2015),

Decision Overview

Judge Sheleme Bekele was the presiding judge of the 19th Criminal Bench in the Federal High Court. The case was adjourned each time that the defendants appeared before the court. [1] In July of 2015, the government released five of the nine jailed defendants and subsequently dropped the charges against them. [2]

On October 16, 2015, the Federal High Court of Ethiopia for 19th Criminal Bench acquitted the remaining four members of the Zone 9 bloggers collective. [3] The court determined that “the evidence presented was very weak to prove they were planning any kind of terrorism.” [4] Furthermore, the court indicated that their writings were consistent with freedom of expression. [5] Befeqadu Hailu, who was also acquitted for the charges under articles 3 and 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, “was found guilty of inciting violence based on a confession obtained during his imprisonment.” [6] However, Hailu was also released because his sentence had already been served. [7]

[1] Global Voices, What You Need to Know About Ethiopia v. Zone 9 Bloggers, (July 17, 2015),

[2] William Davison, Ethiopia courts scepticism after freeing imprisoned writers ahead of Obama visit, The Guardian, (July 9, 2015),

[3] Endalk Chala, Ethiopia’s Zone9 Bloggers Acquitted of Terror Charges, Global Voices, (Oct. 16, 2015),

[4] Yahoo! News, Ethiopia “Zone 9” bloggers acquitted of terrorism, (Oct. 16, 2015),

[5] Yahoo! News, Ethiopia “Zone 9” bloggers acquitted of terrorism, (Oct. 16, 2015),

[6] Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Zone 9 Bloggers, (Oct. 16, 2015),

[7] Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Zone 9 Bloggers, (Oct. 16, 2015),







Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Mixed Outcome

Even though all of the Zone 9 bloggers were acquitted of terrorism charges, the process has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Ethiopia, specifically for journalists and bloggers. The yearlong incarceration of the Zone 9 bloggers could discourage other journalists and bloggers of expressing their views against the government.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

This case did not set a binding or persuasive precedent either within or outside its jurisdiction. The significance of this case is undetermined at this point in time.

Official Case Documents

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Amicus Briefs and Other Legal Authorities

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