Yonatan Tesfaye

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ETHIOPIA /Detained in December 2015

 “If speaking for those killed on the streets constitutes a crime, I will take it as my badge of honour. I will get my judgment form history and God.”

UPDATE: On March 5, 2018, Yonatan was released from Zeway prison in the Orioma State. Yonatan had been among a list of journalists and politicians who were freed mid-February, but his release was delayed after he refused to sign a “pardon” statement that required him to admit guilt to his charges. He was finally set free after spending over two years in prison.

Yonatan is a former spokesman for the Semayawi (Blue) opposition party and was arrested in December 2015. He was detained for his Facebook comments against the government’s plans to extend Addis Ababa’s city limits into Oromia’s farmlands. He was held without charges until May 4, 2016, when he was finally charged with “‘incitement, planning, preparation, conspiracy and attempt’ to commit a terrorist act.” Authorities claimed that his comments encouraged people to rise up against the government as well as prolong the protests in the Oromia region.  Authorities had also accused him of supporting the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a banned separatist movement which the government labeled a terrorist organization.

The international community including Amnesty International has called for his release saying that he was arbitrarily arrested and had no ties to the OLF.  On May 16, 2017,  the Ethiopian Federal High court fourth criminal bench passed a guilty verdict against Yonatan Tesfaye and sentenced him to six years in prison.

On November 2017, the Supreme Court downgraded the terrorist charges to criminal charges; the Court ruled that Yonatan had no ties to terrorism but that he had still provoked and/or prepared crimes that disrupted constitutional order. Under criminal charges, Yonatan’s sentence was reduced to three and a half years instead of the initial six.