Liberalization of the telecommunications sector is expected to greatly increase internet and mobile-phone penetration, but the prospects for such liberalization remain uncertain. While some observers consider the December 2010 entry of France Telecom as manager of Ethio Telecom to be a potential move toward liberalization, others are skeptical of the government’s commitment to allowing greater public access to information and communication technologies (ICTs). The foreign partnership may simply be an effort to improve service delivery while maintaining the state monopoly. The government has declared that it will not hasten the liberalization process or succumb to pressure from the international community.LIMITS ON CONTENT Although the Ethiopian authorities deny engaging in online censorship,29 studies conducted by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) in 2009 indicate that Ethiopia is the only country in subSaharan Africa to impose nationwide, politically motivated internet filtering.30 The blocking of websites is somewhat sporadic, tending to tighten ahead of sensitive political events.
Following a period in early 2009 during which several previously blocked websites became Al Shiferaw, “Connecting Telecentres: An Ethiopian Perspective,” Telecentre Magazine, September 2008, http://www.telecentremagazine.net/articles/article-details.aspTitle=Connecting-Telecentres:-An-EthiopianPerspective&articleid=163&typ=Features.
Agencies including UNECA, the World Bank, and the Ethiopian Civil Service College have been given special authorization for a VSAT link.
ETA, “Telecommunication Proclamation No. 49/1996, Part Two,” http://www.eta.gov.et/Scan/Telecom%20Proc%2049_1996%20NG1.pdf, accessed August 24, 2010.
Technology Strategies International, “ICT Investment Opportunities in Ethiopia—2010.” “Ethiopia: Authorities Urged to Unblock Websites,” Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), May 25, 2006, http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspxreportid=59115.
ETHIOPIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net available, filtering intensified again ahead of the May 2010 elections as part of a general crackdown on independent and opposition media.The government’s approach to internet filtering appears to entail hindering access to a list of specific internet-protocol (IP) addresses or domain names at the level of the international gateway. Testing by ONI found that the filtering focuses primarily on independent online news media, political blogs, and Ethiopian human rights groups’ websites.32 International news outlets such as the U.S.-based Cable News Network (CNN) and nongovernmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders—all of which have criticized the Ethiopian government’s human rights record—were available as of early 2009. However, tests conducted by Freedom House found that in mid-2010 the websites of Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International were inaccessible. In March 2010, Voice of America (VOA) reported that its website was blocked in Ethiopia.33 This came shortly after Prime Minister Meles Zenawi admitted that the government was jamming VOA’s Amharic radio service.34 In addition, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported in June that e-mail messages sent from Ethiopia to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists were being blocked.Ethiopian websites and blogs that are typically blocked but suddenly became available in early 2009 included CyberEthiopia, Ethiopian Review, Ethiopian Media Forum, Quatero, and Ethiomedia. Several observers suggested that the loosening came in response to the 2008 U.S. State Department human rights report on Ethiopia,36 released in February 2009, which accused the government of restricting internet access by blocking politically oriented websites.37 CyberEthiopia, a prodemocracy website, commented in March 2009 that the erratic nature of internet filtering may be a deliberate tactic by the authorities aimed at creating confusion and buttressing government claims that there is no systematic and pervasive filtering regime in the country. The article also raised concerns about a planned filtering system that would be capable of blocking access if blacklisted keywords are found at a given URL, but the existence of such a system has yet to be confirmed by additional Ben Rawlence, “100 Flowers of Repression Bloom as Ethiopia Moves to Gag Press Ahead of Elections,” East African, April 12, 2010, available at http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/04/12/100-flowers-repression-bloom-ethiopia-moves-gag-pressahead-elections.
OpenNet Initiative, “Regional Overview: Sub-Saharan Africa.” Barry Malone, “VOA Says Ethiopia Blocks Website as US Row Escalates,” Reuters, March 29, 2010, http://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFJOE62S0KX20100329rpc=401&feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&rpc=1&sp=true.
“Ethiopia Admits Jamming VOA Radio Broadcasts in Amharic,” BBC, March 19, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8575749.stm.
Will Ross, “Donor Darling: What Ethiopian Poll Can Teach Africa,” BBC, June 1, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/10205887.stm.
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “Ethiopia,” in 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, February 2009), http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/af/119001.htm.
Mohamed Keita, “Ethiopia Lifts Filtering of Critical Web Sites—At Least for Now,” Committee to Protect Journalists Blog, March 4, 2009, http://cpj.org/blog/2009/03/ethiopia-lifts-filtering-of-critical-web-sites--at.php.
ETHIOPIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net sources.38 By mid-2010, all of the newly available websites and several others—including the online version of Addis Neger, a leading independent newspaper that was forced to close in December 200939—were temporarily inaccessible again, apparently as part of the government’s broader election-related restrictions on the free flow of information.The increased repression against journalists working in traditional media has generated a chilling effect in the online sphere. Few Ethiopian journalists work for both domestic print media and as correspondents for overseas online outlets, as this could draw negative repercussions. Many bloggers publish anonymously to avoid reprisals.
In addition to censorship, the authorities use regime apologists, paid commentators, and progovernment websites to proactively manipulate the online news and information landscape. Acrimonious exchanges between a small number of apologist websites and a wide array of diaspora critics and opposition forces have become common in the online Ethiopian political debate. In an example of alternative techniques for controlling online discussion, in April 2010 the Addis Neger prodemocracy Facebook group, which had attracted thousands of members, was shut down by Facebook administrators based on complaints that were apparently orchestrated by the regime; following international pressure, Facebook promptly reinstated the group.41 Lack of adequate funding represents another challenge for independent online media, as fear of government pressure dissuades Ethiopian businesses from advertising with politically critical websites.
Regime critics and opposition forces in the diaspora increasingly use the internet as a platform for political debate and an indirect avenue for providing information to local newspapers. But given the low internet penetration rate, the domestic Ethiopian blogosphere is still in its infancy. Blogging initially blossomed during the period surrounding the 2005 parliamentary elections and the subsequent clampdown on independent newspapers. This growth has slowed somewhat since 2007, when the government instituted a blanket block on the domain names of two popular blog-hosting websites, Blogger and Nazret.com. Nevertheless, several bloggers, such as “Ethio-Zagol Seminawork” and “Urael,” continued to use blogs to relay information abroad that exposed human rights violations, and to advocate for the release of political prisoners. Over the past two years, the use of socialnetworking sites, most notably Facebook, as platforms for political deliberation and information sharing has gained momentum, though many civil society groups based in the country are wary of mobilizing against the government. Some political commentators use “Ethiopia—Only Country in Sub-Saharan Africa to Actively Engage in Political Internet Filtering,” CyberEthiopia, August 21, 2009, http://cyberethiopia.com/home/content/view/140/2/.
Reporters Without Borders, “Weekly Forced to Stop Publishing, Its Journalists Flee Abroad,” news release, December 4, 2009, http://en.rsf.org/ethiopia-weekly-forced-to-stop-publishing-04-12-2009,35258.html.
Oromsis Adula, “Election 2010, Blogging, Medrek, and the Future of Ethiopia,” Opride.com, http://www.opride.com/oromsis/ethiopia/647-election-2010-blogging-medrek-and-the-future-of-ethiopia.html, accessed May 25, 2010.
“Facebook Urged to Reinstate Pro-Democracy Page,” Ethiomedia, May 1, 2010, http://www.ethiomedia.com/absolute/3137.html.
ETHIOPIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net proxy servers and anonymizing tools to hide their identity when publishing online and to circumvent filtering. Among general internet users, however, circumvention tools are rarely employed, and most people simply forego accessing websites that are blocked.VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS Constitutional provisions guarantee freedom of expression and media freedom.Nevertheless, in recent years the government has adopted laws—namely the Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation—that restrict free expression.44 According to Human Rights Watch, the 2008 Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation has some positive aspects, such as a ban on pretrial detention of journalists. However, it also introduced crippling fines, licensing restrictions for establishing a media outlet, a clause permitting only Ethiopian nationals to establish mass media outlets, and powers allowing the government to impound periodical publications.The 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation includes an overly broad definition of terrorism, leaving the authorities with wide discretion to invoke it when suppressing nonviolent dissent. Under the legislation, publication of a statement that is likely to be understood as a direct or indirect encouragement of terrorism is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.A criminal code that entered into force in May 2005 provides for “special criminal liability of the author, originator or publisher” when writings are deemed to be linked to offenses such as treason, espionage, or incitement; in such instances, the penalty may be life imprisonment or death.47 Also under the criminal code, publication of a “false rumor” is punishable by up to three years in prison.48 As of mid-2010, none of these laws had been used to prosecute an individual specifically for online expression, but the harsh legal regime has created a chilling effect on both traditional and online media.
Government surveillance of online and mobile-phone communications is a concern in Ethiopia, though there is a lack of concrete evidence as to the scale and scope of such Interview with an Ethiopian blogger and political commentator, August 8, 2010.
“Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Article 29,” Parliament of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, http://www.ethiopar.net/, accessed August 24, 2010.
Human Rights Watch, Analysis of Ethiopia’s Draft Anti-Terrorism Law (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2009), http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/06/30/analysis-ethiopia-s-draft-anti-terrorism-law.
“Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation No. 590/2008,” Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 64, December 4, 2008.
“Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009,” Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 57, August 28, 2009.
International Labour Organization, “The Criminal Code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Proclamation No.
414/2004, Article 44,” http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/70993/75092/F1429731028/ETH70993.pdf, accessed August 24, 2010.
International Labour Organization, “The Criminal Code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Proclamation No.
414/2004, Articles 485 and 486,” http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/70993/75092/F1429731028/ETH70993.pdf, accessed August 24, 2010.
ETHIOPIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net practices. Upon purchasing a mobile phone, individuals are asked to register their SIM card with their full name, address, and government-issued identification number. Internet account holders also are required to register their personal details, including their home addresses, with the government. For a period following the 2005 elections, cybercafe owners were required to keep a register of their clients, but as of mid-2010 this was no longer being implemented in practice. The key government agency allegedly involved in surveillance is the Information Network Security Agency (INSA).49 It is suspected of engaging in internet filtering and monitoring of e-mail.50 There have also been reports of the government using technology obtained from the Chinese authorities to monitor phone lines and various types of online communication.Although traditional media journalists in Ethiopia face considerable harassment and intimidation, leading several to flee the country in recent years, there have been no reported cases of prosecution or attacks specifically in response to online expression or blogging.
Information Network Security Agency of Ethiopia, “Mission Statement,” http://www.insa.gov.et/INSA/faces/welcomeJSF.jsp, accessed June 2, 2010.
Chris Forrester, “…While Ethiopia Starts Jamming,” Rapid TV News, June 23, 2010, http://www.rapidtvnews.com/index.php/201006236926/while-ethiopia-starts-jamming.html.
Helen Epstein, “Cruel Ethiopia,” New York Review of Books, May 13, 2010, http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/may/13/cruel-ethiopia/.