The first report on the Freedom of the World shows that the world was battered by crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
Just like other years, Ethiopia is categorized as ‘Not Free’ and mentioned in the Freedom on the Net report among countries where new, sophisticated methods of censorship, information control have proliferated as well as an increased use of draconian laws to suppress dissent.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia used the war on terrorism to justify a deadly crackdown on protests against forced displacement in the Oromia region in November and December, as well as ongoing repression of political opponents, journalists, bloggers, and activists, says the yearly report.
The protest movement in the Oromia and Amhara regions escalated and remained ongoing in late 2016, leading the government to declare a six-month state of emergency and shut down mobile internet services nationwide. The ICT shutdowns have been costly. Network disruptions between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016 cost Ethiopia’s economy over US$ 8.5 million, according to the Brookings Institution.
Ethiopia’s country report on the Freedom on the Net states that Internet freedom in Ethiopia declined as government cracked down on tools used for digital activism and lists the following key developments (from June 2015 – May 2016):
- Internet and mobile phone networks were repeatedly disrupted around the country, particularly in the Oromia region during antigovernment protests that began in November 2015 (see Restrictions on Connectivity).
- Social media and communications platforms were temporarily blocked several times to restrict information about antigovernment protests and police brutality (see Blocking and Filtering).
- News websites were newly blocked for reporting on the Oromo protests and a severe drought, adding to a growing blacklist (see Blocking and Filtering).
- In May 2016, blogger Zelalem Workagenehu was sentenced to over five years in prison for leading a digital security course (see Prosecutions and Arrests for Online Activities).
- Prosecutors challenged the release of members of the Zone 9 blogging collective, after they were acquitted of terrorism charges in 2015 (see Prosecutions and Arrests for Online Activities).
Note from the Editor: It is to be recalled that Ethiopia was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to actively engage in political censorship of the Internet. Since May 2006, the then top five most popular Ethiopian web sites (including CyberEthiopia) and several blogs have been blocked across the nation with the apparent objective is 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 in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly.
Read full Freedom House reports:
- Freedom on the Net 2016 – Ethiopia
- Freedom in the World – Ethiopia Country Profile
- Anxious Dictators, Wavering Democracies: Global Freedom under Pressure