October 16, 2015 / 1:47 PM / 5 years ago

Ethiopian court acquits four bloggers of terrorism charges

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - An Ethiopian court on Friday acquitted four remaining members of a blogging group tried on terrorism charges, their lawyer said.

The bloggers, from the nine-member Zone 9 group that has published articles criticizing government policy, were arrested in April 2014 and accused of plotting to commit terrorist acts and attempting to incite violence. Supporters say the charges were meant to silence dissent.

“They have all been acquitted of their charges related to the anti-terror law on a no-case motion,” their lawyer Ameha Mekonnen told Reuters.

Relatives said they expected three members of the group to be released on Friday.

Though cleared of terrorism charges, Befekadu Hailu will remain in custody as he is also facing sedition charges, Ameha said. A bail hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Friday’s acquittals come four months after the same court dropped all charges against five other Zone 9 members.

Critics say Ethiopia uses security threats as an excuse to stifle dissent and media freedom.

They point to an anti-terrorism law, passed in 2009, which stipulates that anyone publishing information that could incite readers to commit acts of terrorism can be jailed for up to 20 years.

Authorities have said the charges against the group related to “serious criminal activities” and had nothing to do with muzzling the media.

The acquittals come six months after the Horn of Africa country’s ruling party won a parliamentary election in which the opposition complained of harassment.

Editing by George Obulutsa and Andrew Roche

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