Zelalem Workagegnehu, co-blogger of De Birhan Blog and whose works had appeared on various Diaspora websites, has been sentenced to five years and four months by the Ethiopian regime controlled court in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia today.
Zelalem has already been detained for nearly two years – 672 days today.
Zelalem was finishing his Masters Degree in Public Administration at the Addis Abeba University, in July 2014 when he was detained together with nine other opposition politicians, netizens, and activists.
The Court had acquitted five of the defendants in August 2015 and two more of Zelalem’s co-defendants on April 15, 2016 when it found Zelalem and two other co-defendants of Zelalem guilty of “supporting terror in any way.”
The movement he is accused of supporting is known as Ginbot 7 (Arebgenoch Ginbot 7 Movement), a pro-democracy movement founded by Professor Berhanu Nega, an Ethiopian economist, who lectured in Bucknell University, U.S.A. The Ethiopian government labelled his movement as well as few other Ethiopian opposition groups as “Terrorist Groups” in 2010.
Like several Ethiopian activists, journalists and politicians, Zelalem was initially accused of being a member and local leader of Ginbot 7 although the charges were later changed to recruiting members to start an Arab Spring styled revolution in Ethiopia and applying for a digital security course.
Zelalem in his defense statements maintained that he has never been a member of Ginbot 7 and does not believe Ginbot 7 is a terror organisation, he does stand for a social change only through a nonviolent means and is against any form of violence.
Zelalem Workagegnehu’s Trial Timeline
July 8, 2014 – Zelalem Workagegnehu along with seven of his friends and one of his brothers was detained by the Ethiopian Federal Police and Securities. Few months later his older brother and four of his friends were later released after going through long interrogations and torture.
One of his colleagues and distant relative, Eyob, who faced the most torture and ordeal, had agreed with the prosecutors to testify against Zelalem and his colleagues and thus was subsequently released.
Tesfaye Teferi was sentenced to three years and seven months. Abraham Girma was sentenced to three years and nine months imprisonment.
October 31, 2014 – After four months of investigation, torture and interrogation, 10 people were officially charged. The 10 were charged under the file of Zelalem Workagenehu :
1. Zelalem Workagenhu – a postgraduate student of Addis Abeba University and a writer
2. Habtamu Ayalew – Public Relations Head of the Unity for Democracy and Justice Party (UDJ) – now acquitted but still battling the Prosecutor’s appeal
3. Daniel Shibeshi – Organisational Affairs Head of UDJ – acquitted
4. Abraha Desta – Central Committee member of Arena Party and lecturer at Mekele University – Acquitted but still in prison
5. Yeshiwas Assfea – Council member of Blue (Semayawi Party) – acquitted
6. Yonatan Wolde – charged with applying for a digital security course – acquitted
7. Abraham Solomon – linked with Zelalem in the Charge – acquitted
8. Solomon Girma – found guilty
9. Bahiru Degu – charged with applying for a digital security course – acquitted
10. Tesfaye Teferi – found guilty
The two main morals of the charges were one “working together with terrorist organisations” and “membership in Ginbot 7 and participation in criminal activities”. The first defendant Zelalem has been charged with being a leader of Ginbot 7, sending information to Diaspora based websites and recruiting members to start an Arab Spring styled revolution in Ethiopia” and is centrally linked with this writer, Tedla, who is also implicated in the same charge.
The 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th defendants have been charged of using legally registered opposition party as a cover to pursue the aims of Ginbot 7 and also using social media to contact Fasil Yenealem, whom the charge referred to as a member of the Movement and others.
Nov. 20, 2014 – They were all denied bail. The Court ordered the prosecutor to complete its evidences on the detainees and submit them on 27 November, 2014.
December 18, 2014 – given another appointment to reappear in Court on December 25, 2014. Reappointed.
Feb. 3, 2015 – Court Declines To Accept The Objections And Defense Of Writer Zelalem Workagegnehu Et Al. Adjourned the hearing to February 19, 2015.
Feb.19, 2015 – They given another appointment to appear again on March 4, 2015 by the Lideta Court.
June 08, 2015 – The Criminal Bench of the Lideta Federal High Court in Addis Abeba started hearing the prosecutor’s witnesses.
June 11, 2015 – Court tells Zelalem to appear in Court on Monday June 15, 2015 for decisions after witnesses testimony was heard.
June 17, 2015 – Court adjourns for July 8, 2015 to give verdict on the Public Prosecutor’s evidences.
July 21, 2016 – Court rejects Zelalem Workagegnehu et al counter-evidence
August 20, 2015 – Five, charged under the file of De Birhan’s Co-blogger Zelalem, acquitted, Zelalem told to Defend. Court adjourned their case to November 7-9, 2015
August 24, 2015 – Prosecutor lodges an appeal against the acquitted.
November 23, 2015 – Hearing of defense witnesses begins.
November 24, 2015 – Second day of Court hearing, defense witnesses of Yonatan heard.
November 26, 2015 – Fourth Day of Court hearing of Zelalem Workagengnhu et al.
November 27, 2015 – hearing postponed to next week Dec.4, 2015 due to incomplete judicial panel.
December 4, 2015 – Zelalem’s witnesses not summoned, case adjourned to December 16.
December 16, 2015 –Co-blogger Zelalem Workagegnehu appears on CPJ’S 2015 prison census.
January 27, 2016 – Eskinder Nega did not testify again, adjourned for Feb. 5
February 5, 2016 – Eskinder Nega defends our co-blogger Zelalem Workagegnehu.
February 24, 2016 – Andargachew didnot testify, Court postpones co-blogger Zelalem’s trail due to judges absence and Court takes Andargachew’s failure to testify as Zelalem’s own fault.
April 7, 2016 – Verdict adjourned for April 15
April 26, 2016 – Prosecutor submits sentencing aggravation statement. Sentencing adjourned to May 10, 2016.
May 10, 2016 – Co-Blogger Zelalem Workagegnehu sentenced to five years and four months.
We are crestfallen but remain resolute! Days will tell!