Ethiopia is the second most populous country in Africa, but poor infrastructure and a government monopoly over the telecommunications sector have notably hindered the growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Consequently, Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile telephone penetration on the continent. Despite low access, the government maintains a strict system of controls and is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa to implement nationwide internet filtering. Internet censorship and content filtering are common in Ethiopia. The state owns and manages the country’s sole Internet service provider, Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (Ethio-Telcom). The country’s Internet policy continues to develop in the broader context of an equally restrictive press freedom environment.
Ethiopia’s telecommunications infrastructure is among the least developed in Africa and is almost entirely absent from rural areas, where about 85 percent of the population resides.The combined cost of purchasing a computer, initiating an internet connection, and paying usage charges places internet access beyond the reach of most Ethiopians. Ethiopia’s broadband internet connections were among the most expensive in the world when compared with monthly income, Prices are set by Ethio Telecom and kept artificially high. The majority of internet users rely on cybercafes to access the web, though connections there are often slow and unreliable.
The Ethiopian government imposes nationwide, politically motivated internet filtering. The blocking of websites is somewhat sporadic, tending to tighten ahead of sensitive political events. In addition to website blocking, some restrictions are also placed on mobile phone text-messaging. In particular, mobile phone users, businesses, and civil society groups are unable to send a message to more than ten recipients without prior approval of its content from Ethio Telecom. The decision-making process does not appear to be centrally controlled. Thus, various governmental entities, along with the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) and Ethio Telecom, seem to be implementing their own lists, contributing to the phenomenon of inconsistent blocking. The Ethiopian government’s already poor treatment of journalists and internet users deteriorated dramatically. 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.
In addition, 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. Also under the criminal code, publication of a “false rumor” is punishable by up to three years in prison. The authorities made extensive use of this law to prosecute a number of individuals who had criticized the government both online and offline, or who had reported on the activities banned opposition political parties that the government has declared a terrorist group.
In September 2011, the well-known dissident blogger Eskinder Nega was arrested on terrorism charges shortly after publishing an online column calling for greater political freedom and criticizing the use of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to silence political dissent. It has been common for traditional media journalists in Ethiopia to face considerable harassment and intimidation, leading several to flee the country. Afraid of protest, the government has already banned communication using Whatsapp and viber. Now TPLF has also provided a draft to parliament to implement a new rule to criminalize mass Email and spamming.
So, we condemn the Ethiopian government’s systematic effort to control all forms of communications!!!
By: Desalegne Abebew