Six bloggers and three journalists were charged with terrorism July 17, following their arrest and imprisonment in April. While one of the bloggers was charged in absentia, the rest appeared in an Addis Ababa court, Cyber Ethiopia reported. Prior to these accusations, the bloggers and journalists, who belonged to social media activist group Zone 9, had been held for over 80 days without being charged.
The bloggers and journalists are accused of working with Ginbot 7, a U.S.-based opposition group considered by the Ethiopian government to be a terrorist organization.
The judge accused the writers of learning how to make explosives and planning to train others how to use those explosives to attack Ethiopia, Al-Jazeera reported. They also face charges of receiving money from Ginbot 7 with the aim of destabilizing Ethiopia.
Zone 9 publishes social and political commentary that is often critical of Ethiopia's government. The blog's tagline is "We blog, because we care."
The Ethiopian blog Nazret, which reports on current affairs, business and lifestyle, described the Zone 9 bloggers as "young, urban professionals known for a fresh and reasoned approach to peaceful change – who are increasingly well-respected" in a blog post published July 22.
The bloggers and journalists are charged under a 2009 anti-terrorism law, the specifics of which are notoriously vague. The United Nations has previously condemned Ethiopia's use of the law to jail and silence dissident reporters and politicians, Bloomberg reported.
In December 2011, two Swedish journalists embedded with a rebel group received 11-year sentences for abetting terrorism. Blogger Eskinder Nega was also handed an 18-year sentence for having alleged ties to Ginbot 7, The Guardian reported. Forty-nine journalists also fled Ethiopia between 2007 and 2012 in order to escape government arrest and prosecution, according to the 2014 Reporters Without Borders Free Press Index.
Tom Rhodes, the Committee to Protect Journalists East Africa representative, condemned the attack.
"Expressing critical views is not a terrorist act," Rhodes said in a statement. "Once again, the Ethiopian government is misusing anti-terrorism legislation to suppress political dissent and intimidate journalists."