Decision unexpected Ethiopia frees journalists ahead of Obama visit

President Barack Obama is due to visit Ethiopia later this month as part of an Africa tour

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Five bloggers and journalists held in Ethiopia for more than a year have been freed after the charges were dropped, their lawyer said Thursday, weeks before US President Barack Obama is due to visit the country.

In a separate case, journalist Reeyot Alemu, jailed in June 2011 after being found guilty of plotting a terrorist act, was released on Thursday, campaigners said.

Four others also arrested in April 2014 remain in jail, accused of planning attacks and collaborating with US-based opposition group Ginbot 7, labelled a terrorist organisation by Ethiopian authorities.

"They have suffered, their rights have been violated, but now we are happy," defence lawyer Ameha Mekonnen told AFP after the five journalists and bloggers were released on Wednesday.

Ameha said the decision to drop the charges was unexpected.

"We are all surprised. The question is why did it take more than one year? We've been crying, shouting to the court, to the government," he said.

The trial of the four remaining bloggers is due to resume on July 20.

Rights activists welcomed the releases but said more needed to be done.

"It's very good news that six journalists and bloggers have been released, though they shouldn't have been imprisoned in the first place," said Leslie Lefkow, deputy director for Africa at Human Rights Watch.

"The government should show this is only a first step toward releasing all political prisoners and opening up space for Ethiopians to voice dissent on a range of issues."

Tom Rhodes from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called the release, "a welcome turn of events in Ethiopia, where the number of journalists in prison has steadily increased in recent years". "We call on authorities to release the remaining Zone 9 bloggers and all the journalists in jail for their work, and to drop all charges against them," Rhodes said in a statement Thursday.
 

Source: standardmedia.co.ke

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