On July 2, 2014, Zelalem Kibret, a lecturer of law at Ambo University who has been detained by the Ethiopian government since April 25, 2014, was reportedly fired from his position at the university for failing to report to work during the time he has been in custody. Professor Kibret was reportedly arrested in connection with his membership in the “Zone 9” forum, a bloggers’ group formed in response a narrowing of space for free expression in Ethiopia. He and his colleagues were reportedly charged with “working with foreign organizations claiming to be human rights activists to destabilize the nation” and “receiving funding in order to incite the public to violence via social media.”
In a statement following the notification that Professor Zelalem had been fired, Dr. Lakew Wondimu, Academic and Research Vice President of the University, stated that “Zelalem has not been on the job for the past three months and had not responded to two previous notices, written within the past couple of months to report about his absence from the University, and the University has officially fired him from his post.” Dr. Wondimu stated further that “[t]he university has not received any formal report on the lecturer’s detention, and his ability to report,” and indicated that while Professor Zelalem was not expected to report to the university in person, he should have informed the university of his whereabouts in some fashion. Dr. Wondimu went on to state that if Professor Zelalem furnished evidence of his reasons for failing to come to work over the past three months, and if such evidence was accepted by the university, the university would consider reinstating him.
Professor Zelalem’s arrest and detention are a matter of public record in Ethiopia. He was held incommunicado from the time he was taken into custody until mid-May, when he was reportedly first allowed to see his lawyer. He was reportedly prevented from communicating with anyone else, including his family, until after the university announced its decision to fire him.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the dismissal of a scholar, resulting from his detention and legal proceedings which themselves were brought in apparent retaliation for the exercise of protected rights, including freedom of expression and association. Such dismissal compounds the harm caused by such detention and prosecution, further chills academic freedom, and undermines university values and democratic society generally.
This is an update to an earlier report. To view, please click here.
Update: On Wednesday, July 8, 2015, Professor Kibret, along with five other Zone 9 bloggers were released from custody, and the charges against them were reportedly dropped. The release took place in advance of a scheduled visit to Ethiopia by US President Barack Obama.