Befeqadu Hailu Techanie (Amharic: በፍቃዱ ኃይሉ), a 36-year-old blogger and a member of the persecuted Zone 9 collective, was arrested by Ethiopian authorities on November 10, following a 6 month state of emergency declared by the government.
No official reason was provided by authorities to the blogger’s arrest. However, according to some reports, his criticism of the emergency state on an interview for Voice of America’s Amharic Service was the trigger for his arrest. Befeqadu was told that “he either will be charged or given ‘educational’ training”.
Shortly before his arrest, Befeqadu wrote in his blog:
“My friends and I are living a tragedy. We can’t be anywhere we want for we don’t have the luxury of being considered commoners, but dissidents from whom the government is looking a mistake to throw back to jail…
Now, the government in Ethiopia has declared a ‘state of emergency’ that lasts in six months. As ‘the usual suspects’ because of our dissents, my friends and I are scared more than before. It has always been a risky thing to criticize the government here. Furthermore, this declaration has given the government the right to arrest us even without an excuse.
I’m publishing this personal note as a blog because I am afraid I may be arrested sometime soon. If so I want people read me and understand me. I want people to also understand my likes to understand the desperate protests in Ethiopia. It’s an attempt to survive as human with dignity”
Hailu was arrested in April 2014, along with the other members of the Zone 9 bloggers, a group of Ethiopian bloggers and journalists, who were put behind bars in a case that has widely been seen as a government crackdown on freedom of expression. The members of the group were acquitted of terrorism charges in October 2015 and were released on bail. However, their release was challenged by prosecutors and they are now facing charges for ‘inciting violence through writing’.
According to the Freedom House’s Freedom of the Net report for the year 2016, Ethiopia is marked as ‘Not Free’. Social media apps are being blocked, political and social content is being censored and bloggers are arrested for expressing their opinions online. The press freedom status in the state is also marked as ‘Not Free’.
The report states that during anti-government protests in November 2015, the Internet and mobile phone networks were disrupted, social media and communications platforms were temporarily blocked and news websites that reported the protests and police brutality were blocked and blacklisted.