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Ethiopia: Netizens Outraged as Ethiopia Steps Up Internet Censorship

Ethiopian netizens are outraged and expressing their concern on different social media platforms as the Ethiopian government increasingly engages in blocking and surveillance of selected websites, blogs and Facebook pages. The report about Ethiopia’s authorities engaging in online censorship came about after all previously blocked websites and blogs became available for three successive days during Ethiopia’s Easter celebration in early April.

Reporters Without Borders reported on 26 April, 2012, that:

Reporters Without Borders is very worried to learn that access to the Amharic website of Ethiopia’s leading independent, privately-owned weekly, The Reporter, has been blocked for the past five days. No one has been able to access the site from within Ethiopia since around 4:30 p.m. on 21 April unless they use a proxy server.

The reason for the blocking is unclear and Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to provide an explanation. “Everything indicates that the blocking is being carried by the state-owned company Ethio-Telecom, since it is Ethiopia’s only Internet Service Provider,” the press freedom organization said.

Zelalem Malcolm Kibret, a blogger residing in Addis Ababa, reacted strongly on his Facebook page:

Ethiopian blogger and journalist, Eskinder Nega, is facing the death penalty. Photo courtesy of FreeEskinderNega.com

Ethiopian blogger and journalist, Eskinder Nega, is facing the death penalty. Photo courtesy of FreeEskinderNega.com

First EPRDF [the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front] going to be MAD, then gone WILD & now gone WILDER.In an effort to smash dissenting opinion in Ethiopia, EPRDF block 100 + websites and bloggers that puts Ethiopia as blocker-in-chief of Ideas in Africa.* . The recent wild act is blocking mediocre blogs like Abe Tokichaw's blog. Abe’s new blog is launched today for the fourth time with a new name. This can be the best instance that fits formerly mad and now turned wild government mad action.

Abe on his latest interview to a monthly Ethiopian Amharic Magazine called Addis Times via e-mail says:

‹‹ አሁን ባለሁበት ሀገር በቃ የምሰራው ብሎጌ ላይ ስፅፍ መዋል እና ማሰብ ብቻ ነው፡፡ ኦ ይቅርታ መንግስት ብሎጌን ሲዘጋብኝ አዲስ መክፈትም ሌላው የእለት ከዕለት ስራዎቼ አንዱ ሆኗል››

My only task here in a country where I am residing is only to blog and to contemplate. One more task is to produce different blogs on daily bases.

In Dictatorship we Un-trust.

* In Africa, Only Sudan & Ethiopia block websites in a ‘substantial manner’ and Ethiopia is the only country that blocks Political websites.

Markos Lemma, a blogger and Global Voice author, warns Internet censorship agents in the country that other people will be inspired to start blogging if blogs are blocked:

To whom it may concern: It might be possible to block 100s of blogs but not 10,000s or millions. I bet the second one blog is blocked in Ethiopia, 10 new blogs created. Thanks who ever writes, shares and communicates

Another blogger, debirhan, reported about his blog being banned in Ethiopia:

The Web address of De Birhan (http://www.debirhan.com/) has been blocked since Saturday night (21 April 2012) in Ethiopia. According to readers from Addis Abeba and the Website internal Audience Data Report, De Birhan was not accessible in Ethiopia for two days now. The regime in Addis Abeba has mastered the blocking of Websites, News and Information media since the 2005 election. Most Diaspora based Ethiopia focused News and Information Websites are blocked in Ethiopia.

De Birhan advises its readers to follow our Facebook updates at De Birhan Blogspot and use mobile phones or proxy servers to access us.

Incidentally, similar accounts of online censorship on mainstream media have been on the increase since early April.Huffington Post and New York Times indicates in their reports that Ethiopia’s government engages in online censorship.

A recent article posted on New York Times pointed out that Ethiopia’s government has stepped up its grip on both online and traditional media with the technical help from the Chinese government.

Iginio Gagliardone, a research fellow at University of Oxford highlights how Ethiopia’s government is being helped by the Chinese government in online censorship technologies and expertise.

Gagliardone writes:

China's EXIM bank provided a $1.5 billion loan to overhaul the country's telecommunication system, free media are struggling. Opposition blogs are blocked and the Prime Minister (Melese Zenawi) argued that Ethiopia has a right to jam the international broadcaster Voice of America because of its “destabilizing propaganda.”

Gagliardone further notes that Chinese companies are replacing Western companies such as Cisco Systems:

China has been accused of providing the technology and expertise to make these forms of censorship possible. A few years earlier, however, it was the expertise provided by Cisco Systems and Hughes Networks, two companies based in the U.S., that allowed the Ethiopian government to develop WoredaNet, one of Africa's most ambitious and problematic e-government projects.

A recent document [am] said to be shared by sources close to The Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE), an opposition movement based in the US, has made stronger claims that China supports Ethiopia’s online surveillance capacity in name of building Ethiopia’s national security.

The document [am] further states that Ethiopia’s only and government-owned Telecom Corporation and all of its network facility is appended to Information Network Security Agency (INSA), a government agency established to safeguard key government and public information systems from any security threat.

The document claims that with a huge technical and monetary aid of the Chinese technology companies, INSA has developed a competence to use ordinary cell phones as spy devices by tracking citizens’ movements and listening to people’s private conversations even when the cell phones are turned off.

This document further highlights that private conversations and movements of select members of the diplomatic community, civic society, opposition party leaders, journalists and individuals are closely monitored.

LAst year, Global Voices Author Jillian York reflected on Ethiopia’s Internet censorship:

Ethiopia [‘s], government filtering of websites has long been common practice. Despite an Internet penetration rate of only 0.5 per cent, the Ethiopian government blocks a range of political opposition websites, as well as independent news sites reporting on the country and the sites of a few human rights organizations. Ethiopia's Internet infrastructure is state-owned, leaving control of it entirely at the hands of the government.

ONI points out that Ethiopia together with the Sudan are the two leading sub-Saharan Africa states when it comes to Internet censorship. Freedom House 20111 report noted that Ethiopia is one of the worst offenders of freedom on the net.

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