STOCKHOLM, Swe. — “An Ethiopian Journalist Jailed for Her Integrity” reads the title of a story about Edom Kassaye that was circulating on the Internet hours before rumors of her release and others broke on social media.
— Global Voices (@globalvoices) July 8, 2015
The Sweden-based Ethiopian podcast, Wazema Radio, was the first to confirm the release of at least three members of the Zone 9 collective. Soon, it was learnt Edom Kassaye, Mahlet Fantahun, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, Tesfalem Woldyes and Zelalem Kibret were all released after prosecutors dropped all charges on July 8.
The release of the writers, which stunned the defendants, their solicitors and admirers alike, was followed by yet another unexpected release of Reeyot Alemu, who walked out of prison on July 9 after serving four years in prison.
The mood on social media was a mix of confusion, happiness, disbelief and suspicion. Some were jubilant while others remained cautious and skeptical of the government’s abrupt move.
— Maaza Mengiste (@MaazaMengiste) July 9, 2015
The Supreme Court, which recently concluded hearing evidences, was due to deliver a verdict in the coming week—the very week Barack Obama is expected to be in Ethiopia as the first sitting US president.
The timing and the manner in which they were released have thus led some to consider the turn of events as “Obama effect”—a charm-offensive by Ethiopian officials ahead of the President’s historic trip to the country.
— Seble B. (@Seble_Ki) July 9, 2015
Ethiopian authorities say there is no connection between the release of the writers and Obama’s visit. The Ethiopian News Agency reported, quoting the Ministry of Justice, that President Obama’s trip has nothing to do with the release of the writers as Ethiopia is a sovereign nation, and that the President is visiting the country for his own mission.
For the recently released writers who managed to prove their innocence in a court of law, the situation has now left them with some sort of a survivor guilt.
In an exclusive with VOA Amharic, the released bloggers and journalists as well as father/attorney of columnist Reeyot Alemu expressed their mixed feelings. Zelalem Kibret, a.k.a Zola, said he feels guilty for being released while his four colleagues who were arrested with the same charges still remain behind bars.
SOCIAL REACH of our Hashtag #FreeZone9Bloggers : 1,515,854 people, impressions: 2,620,418 [July 8 – July 10]
— Eric Schreyer (@EricSchreyer) July 10, 2015
The campaign #FreeZone9Bloggers continues to trend on Twitter and has become the second popular hashtag, at least here in Sweden.
The family and friends of the writers, social media users and human rights and free speech watchdogs are still demanding the government to release all prisoners of conscience. In the meantime others are, rather sarcastically, urging Mr. Obama to visit Ethiopia as often as possible.