On April 25, 2014, Ethiopian police arrested and detained Professor Zelalem Kibret, lecturer of law at Ambo University, and Befikadu Hailu, former lecturer and current staff member at St. Mary’s University College, along with four others, bloggers and journalists, reportedly in connection with the “Zone 9” forum, a bloggers’ group formed in response to a narrowing of space for free expression in Ethiopia. Professor Kibret was arrested while on campus. Police reportedly searched the detainees’ offices and homes, seizing computers and literature.
The arrests coincide with the bloggers’ announcement on April 23 that they would resume publishing after seven months of inactivity. They are reportedly charged with inciting violence through social media and creating instability in the country. SAR understands that the detainees are being held incommunicado at Makelawi prison and that family members have not been permitted to visit them.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about arrest and detention of university staff apparently in retaliation for nonviolent expressive activity which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with the right of free expression, so long as it is exercised peacefully and responsibly. Imprisonment and prosecution aimed at limiting free expression undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State officials also have a responsibility to comply with internationally recognized standards of due process and fair trial, and to ensure the well being of prisoners while they are in custody, including disclosure of their current location and access to counsel and family.