A group of Ethiopian bloggers and journalists detained for nearly three months have been charged with terrorism for having links to an
outlawed group and planning attacks, a judge said on Friday.
The seven members of the blogging collective Zone Nine and three journalists were arrested in April,
prompting an outcry from rights groups who said the case was an assault on press freedom.
The group is accused of planning attacks in Ethiopia and working in collusion with the US-based opposition group Ginbot 7, labelled by Ethiopian authorities as a terrorist organisation.
"They took training in how to make explosives and planned to train others," judge Tareke Alemayehu
told the court.
The Zone Nine website, proclaiming "We blog because we care!" features mostly social and political commentary, often critical of the government.
The judge said the group's work was a cover for "clandestine" activities and accused it of plotting "to destabilise the nation".
Nine of the accused – one is charged in absentia – smiled and waved to friends and family as they entered the packed courtroom.
The lawyer for eight of the suspects dismissed the charges. "We don't believe that there is any credible substance," Amaha Mekonnen said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the decision, accusing Ethiopia of making a "mockery of its own judicial system", according to deputy Africa director, Leslie Lefkow.
"Hiding behind an abusive anti-terrorism law to prosecute bloggers and journalists for doing their jobs is an affront to the Ethiopian constitution," she said. HRW accuses Ethiopia of using the anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics.
Several journalists have been jailed under the law, including two Swedish journalists sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2012. They were pardoned after serving 15 months.
The dissident blogger Eskinder Nega is currently serving an 18-year sentence for having links with Ginbot 7, which calls for the violent overthrow of the ruling party.
The trial for the bloggers and journalists is expected to resume on 4 August.