CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett interviewed two journalists, 30-year-old Edom Kassaye and 28-year-old Zelalem Kibret, who were recently released after spending more than a year in prison. They were part of a group of bloggers called Zone 9, six of whom were arrested on terrorism charges after criticizing government policy. Below is a transcript of part of their conversation.
MAJOR GARRETT: How long were you in prison?
EDOM KASSAYE: I’ve been in one year, two months and 15 days.
ZELALEM KIBRET: Same.
GARRETT: Why were you arrested?
KIBRET: Yeah, that’s our confusion, too. We blog. We were just law-abiding citizens. We respect the law. We didn’t violate any single law, and we didn’t trespass anything, but we end up in jail. Why, until now, is confusing. That’s why I say I don’t know the reason for my arrest.
GARRETT: Same for you? (Points at Kassaye)
KASSAYE: Yes, first they say, ‘We need you for questioning in the police station.’
GARRETT: And once you got in, you didn’t get out?
KASSAYE: Yes, of course.
GARRETT: You were accused of what, exactly, in the context of terrorism?
KIBRET: Yeah, our criminal charge says we were preparing and attempting of doing an act of terrorism. That’s what the charge says. And the specific charge is to disrupt public safety and health.
GARRETT: By writing about the government?
GARRETT: When you were in prison, what happened to you?
KIBRET: Personally, I was pushed to sign a self-incriminating statements. But I refuse. I was insulted, I was locked in a room for 24/7. A room which had no natural light at all. So they were just pushing me and forcing me to confess what they want.
GARRETT: When you say ‘pushed,’ do you also mean abused?
KIBRET: Yes, if beatings and such insults are abuse, I was abused.
GARRETT: You were beaten?
GARRETT: When you were released, was that a surprise to you?
KASSAYE: So, it was shocking, and then even very shocking when I heard that I am released, and my friends are there in prison back. Why me? I was very shocked.
GARRETT: Was it sad for you to walk out, knowing your friends were still in jail?
KASSAYE: It was the worst moment, actually. It was very sad. Because you knew that other friends of mine are in prison and they deserve to get freedom, but they are back.
KIBRET: And it was shocking and just, I was feeling that I am betraying them.
GARRETT: You felt that you were betraying them? By walking free?
KIBRET: Sure, sure.
GARRETT: You feel guilty about that?
KIBRET: Sure, sure I feel guilt.
GARRETT: Have either of you since you were released written anything?
KASSAYE: I’m afraid.
GARRETT: Do you have any sense at all why you were released? Do you believe at any level, large or small, the presence of the American president, Barack Obama, had anything to do with you being released?
KASSAYE: If that is so, there are other friends of ours who are in prison. So they need their freedom, also.