Ethiopia’s Zone 9 Bloggers Nominated for 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders

All_members_of_Zone9_2Ethiopia’s Zone 9 bloggers were on Wednesday nominated for the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

The Ethiopian blogging group shared the nominations with activists from China and Syrian.

Chinese activist Ilham Tohti, a Uyghur intellectual, is currently serving life imprisonment after being arrested in China in 2014. Tohti’s work centered on the rights of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

The other nominee, Razan Zaitouneh is a Syrian rights lawyer and activist. Razan created an organization – Violations Documentation Center (VDC). The organization recorded the death toll and torture in Syrian prisons during the beginning of the conflict in 2011.

In 2013, Razan, her husband, Wael Hamada and two co-workers were kidnapped by a group of masked gunmen at the VDC office in Damascus. All four have remained missing since then.

The Zone 9 bloggers are a group who were incarcerated in Ethiopia for their online writing. The content of the blog, written in Amharic, led to the arrest of nine members of the group and three journalists in 2014.

The mime bloggers faced charges of terrorism and were accused of having links to an outlawed organization.

However, critics say the Zone 9 bloggers, who got their name from an Ethiopian state prison notorious for housing political prisoners, were targeted because their writings defied the odds.

Five members of the blogging group were released after months of detention last year. Their release coincided with the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to the region.

Reports indicate that six Zone 9 members are currently living in exile while those in Ethiopia have been banned from traveling.

“We are extremely humbled to be nominated for the Martin Ennals Award. This recognition raises our visibility enough to increase our safety, and also show that the World is the home of the same family,” a statement from Zone 9 reads. “It is proof that when one part of the world is silenced, the rest will speak on behalf of it. This recognition will definitely motivate us to push forward on our struggle to create a better Ethiopia where human rights are respected.”

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders is the result of a collaboration between ten major leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First.