|Internet Repression in Ethiopia|
|Written by CyberEthiopia|
|Friday, 01 September 2006|
Ethiopia: pioneering Internet Repression in Africa
In an increasingly globalized economy, information technology is one of the key determinants of growth of countries such as Ethiopia. In the new digital age, the Internet, one of the most powerful invention of mankind, has the potential to empower and educate, to cross cultural boundaries and create global communities. It enables any individual with access to a computer with a gateway to the internet to communicate in a free flow of information and ideas with others across the world.
Yet that very potential to transcend national borders and impart information regardless of frontiers has made the Internet a subject of concerted efforts by the Ethiopian regime to restrict freedoms and violate basic human rights such as the right to freedom of expression and freedom of information.
The struggle for freedom of expression in Ethiopia is now also taking place online as the authoritarian government has annihilated the local free press in the aftermath of the contested election in May 2005. The regime is devoting increasing resources and attention to controlling access to information via the internet and is implementing surveillance technologies. Following the footsteps of the Tunisian regime, Ethiopia has pioneered Internet Censorship in Africa.
Indeed, since 19 th of May 2006, the top five most popular Ethiopian web sites and several blogs have been blocked and are inaccessible across the nation. The Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (the state monopoly and sole Internet Service Provider in the country) seemingly unblocks the access randomly for few hours in an attempt to confuse end-users in Ethiopia by suggesting a technical glitch from the web sites owners rather than censorship from the government.
The following table lists the top 15 most visited Ethiopian websites as of September 2006. The traffic ranks are based on Alexa’s ranking combining Reach (number of users) and Pageviews. World Top ranked sites are Yahoo, MSN and Google.
Silence of the authorities
Despite the numerous calls from Global Media watchdogs, officials at the Ministry of Information only said they had no explanation or information about the sudden inaccessibility of the blogs and web sites including Cyberethiopia.com, EthioMedia.com, ethiopianreview.com, tensae.net, quatero.net and ethioforum.org.
In an open letter to the minister, the French organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned that blocking free expression would only increase political tension in the country. "We would like to know if your government has deliberately blocked access to online publications ... thus taking the course of filtering the Internet," it said. " It is likely that the disappearance of the sites is the result of political censorship and not technical problems."
To this date, the government has not given any reason for the ban. The apparent objective is to prevent the dissemination of information that is critical of the regime but also to track and monitor dissidents, most of whom are subsequently imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression. It is also meant to send an intimidating message to the Diaspora and attempt to terrorize and muzzle it after silencing entirely the local Free Press.
The authoritarian regime in Ethiopia is attempting to use the Internet itself as a tool of repression through the monitoring of communications, the censoring and filtering of information, thereby enhancing its ability to restrict the freedom of information of Ethiopians and deny them the opportunity to participate in the global information society.
A new frontier for Human Rights and freedom of expression abuses
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom of ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right that is necessary for the enjoyment of all human rights. It has variously been described as essential for the discovery of truth, the freedom to develop and discuss ideas in the search for truth and understanding;
There are some legitimate cases in which restricting access to certain information is an important step in protecting human rights, for example restricting access to racism incitement or child pornography. However, international human rights standards establish strict conditions under which such restrictions are permissible. Unwarranted censorship is contrary to many local laws and established international norms and values.
It is also legitimate that any group or individual that advocates ethnic, national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence (‘hate speech’) should be prohibited. Our rules of conduct in our forums clearly state the above principle.
However, international human rights law does not permit freedom of expression to be restricted or prohibited simply on the grounds that others may find it offensive or that the authorities say that it poses a risk to public order. International and regional human rights treaties apply strict criteria that any such restriction must be set down in law, have a legitimate aim and is a proportionate response to a real problem.
We shall remain vigilant on human rights and freedom of speech abuses
The information society’s very life blood is freedom. It is freedom that enables citizens everywhere to benefit from knowledge, journalists to do their essential work, and citizens to hold government accountable. Without openness, without the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers, the information revolution will stall, and the information society we hope to build will be stillborn.2
— UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan
Demonstrating the validity of the restriction rests with the regime in Ethiopia which has been strictly silent on the issue after 3 months of unjustified restriction. In a country where elected opposition leaders, journalists and human rights activists have been jailed after the highly contested 2005 election, controlling news and access to information circulating online will only aggravate an already very tense political climate. We therefore renew our call to the authorities at the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation to explain the reasons and validity of the restrictions of all these informative web sites.
We, at CyberEthiopia, remain determined to pursue our mission and shall remain vigilant on human rights and freedom of speech abuses in Ethiopia as they are essential determinants in achieving our goals.