DECEMBER 17, 2013 LEAVE A COMMENT
Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile telephone penetration in the world, as meager infrastructure, a government monopoly over the telecom sector, and obstructive telecom policies have notably hindered the growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the country. Despite low access, the government maintains a strict system of controls over digital media, making Ethiopia the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa to implement nationwide internet filtering. Such a system is made possible by the state’s monopoly over the country’s only telecom company, Ethio Telecom, which returned to government control after a two-year management contract with France Telecom expired in December 2012. In addition, the government’s implementation of deep-packet inspection technology for censorship was indicated when the Tor network, which helps people communicate anonymously online, was blocked in mid- 2012.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who ruled Ethiopia for over 20 years, died in August 2012 while seeking treatment for an undisclosed illness. Before his death was officially confirmed on August 20th, widespread media speculation about Zenawi’s whereabouts and the state of his health prompted the authorities to intensify its censorship of online content. A series of Muslim protests against religious discrimination in July 2012 also sparked increased efforts to control ICTs, with social media pages and news websites disseminating information about the demonstrations targeted for blocking. Moreover, internet and text messaging speeds were reported to be extremely slow, leading to unconfirmed suspicions that the authorities had deliberately obstructed telecom services as part of a wider crackdown on the Ethiopian Muslim press for its coverage of the demonstrations.
In 2012, legal restrictions on the use and provision of ICTs increased with the enactment of the Telecom Fraud Offences law in September,1 which toughened a ban on certain advanced internet applications and worryingly extended the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and 2004 CriminalCode to electronic communications.2 Furthermore, the government’s ability to monitor online activity and intercept digital communications became more sophisticated with assistance from the Chinese government, while the commercial spyware toolkit FinFisher was discovered in Ethiopia in August 2012.
Repression against bloggers, internet users and mobile phone users continued during the coverage period of this report, with at least two prosecutions reported. After a long trial and months of international advocacy on behalf of the prominent dissident blogger, Eskinder Nega, who was charged with supporting a terrorist group, Nega was found guilty in July 2012 and sentenced to 18 years in prison.