Cyber Ethiopia

#BBCtrending: Jailed bloggers spark Ethiopia trend

Just when US Secretary of State John Kerry visits Ethiopia, six of the nation’s leading bloggers have been arrested.

On Friday afternoon at 5pm Addis Ababa time, the mobile phones and inboxes of nine Ethiopian bloggers began to beep and vibrate with frantic messages. One of the members of social media activist group Zone 9 had been arrested – and others were being warned. But the alerts came too late and by the next day, five more bloggers and three journalists had been arrested All nine are in custody whilst police investigate allegations that the individuals have been working with foreign organizations, rights activists, and “using social media to destabilise the country”.

The arrests highlight the highly political role social media now plays in Ethiopia. Officially a democracy, human rights groups have repeatedly complained about the lack of press freedom there. Most of the TV and radio stations are state run. Because of this, the opposition and activists, including those based abroad, have come to dominate social media conversation in the country.

As you’d expect, then, since the arrests a protest hashtag, #Freezone9bloggers, has been tweeted over eight thousand times. Respectable by international standards, but a top trend in a country where the internet is estimated to reach just over 1% of the population. The Zone 9 bloggers began writing together two years ago and they use the platform to criticize the government, accusing it of human rights abuses and building poor infrastructure for example.

Paul Brown from BBC Monitoring says that the crackdown seems to be a response to a statement from the group posted on 23 April on Facebook. Zone 9 wrote that they would resume their blogging after several months of inactivity. He says that the arrests “suggest that the government is taking online activism seriously – probably because elections are due next year.” The Ethiopian government has not responded to BBC Trending’s invitations to comment but Getachew Reda, an advisor to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, told Reuters that these arrests “have nothing to do with journalism but serious criminal activities”. The arrests come just days before the scheduled visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry, which is now set to take place today.

Reporting by India Rakusen

#BBCtrending is a radio programme and a blog with video reports. To hear a radio with one of the Zone 9 bloggers download the free BBC Trending podcast here.

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Posted by on May 3 2014. Filed under News, Views and Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Warka ዋርካ
the Pioneering Ethiopian Discussion
Forum in Amharic

The then-TPLF-dominated regime in Ethiopia was the first in sub-Saharan Africa to actively engage in political censorship of the Internet .

Since May 2006, the most popular Ethiopian web sites (including CyberEthiopia) and several blogs have been blocked across the nation. The apparent objective was to prevent the dissemination of information that is critical of the regime.

Following the political protests which have swept the nation since November 2015, the regime has routinely shutdown the Internet and restricted access to Social Media (including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber) and indicated its keenness to control Social Media.

On 22nd June 2018, the new Prime Minister Dr Abye Ahmed's government reported that it had unblocked 264 websites including after 12 years of blockage as attested by the OONI’s thorough verifications of our website’s unblocking .

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