By William Davison
(Bloomberg) — Ethiopian prosecutors have failed to present evidence relating to charges that a group of bloggers and journalists support terrorism, a defense lawyer at the latest court hearing said.
Six members of the Zone 9 blogging group and three freelance journalists were charged in July at the Federal High Court in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, for working with banned organizations such as the U.S.-based Ginbot 7, which the Horn of Africa nation categorizes as a terrorist group. A witness on Wednesday testified that police last year collected a political manifesto from a Health Ministry office, where one of the defendants worked, lawyer Ameha Mekonnen said.
“No witness is brought who has either direct or indirect knowledge of the material element of the charge,” Ameha said in an interview. “The witnesses are here to prove that there was no maltreatment or pressure when the search was conducted.”
The defendants are the latest government critics to be tried under Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law, which the U.S. has said is being used to criminalize legitimate dissent.
Ethiopian officials reject the accusation.
The manifesto collected was for a “peaceful” political party led by the author Lencho Lata, a former head of the rebel Oromo Liberation Front, Ameha said. All of the other evidence filed to the court by prosecutors is of a similar public nature, he said. Prosecutors will get a final chance to present witnesses when the trial resumes on May 26, Ameha said.