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Ethiopia in 2017: The enemy of Internet and freedom: Ethiopia is the 2nd worst in the world in the Internet freedom after China and a continuous deteriorating trend. Syria (3rd) November 18, 2017

Posted by OromianEconomist in Censorship, Internet Freedom, Uncategorized.
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Odaa Oromoooromianeconomist

Freedom House Freedom on the Net 2017 Ethiopia Country Profile STATUS:

NOT FREE

Ethiopia the 2nd worst in the world in Internet freedom in 2017

 The prominent opposition activist Yonatan Tesfaye, was found guilty of terrorism based on Facebook posts that criticized the government’s handling of the Oromia protests.

Key Developments: 

JUNE 2016–MAY 2017

  • Internet and mobile phone networks were deliberately disrupted during antigovernment protests and student exams; social media and communications platforms were periodically blocked throughout the year (see Restrictions on Connectivity and Blocking and Filtering).
  • Self-censorship heightened following the state of emergency instituted in October 2016 (see Media, Diversity, and Online Manipulation).
  • The state of emergency eroded fundamental rights and restricted certain online activities, including supporting protests on social media (see Legal Environment).
  • The Computer Crime Proclamation enacted in June 2016 criminalizes online defamation and incitement and strengthened the government’s surveillance capabilities by enabling real-time monitoring or interception of communications (see Legal Environment and Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity).
  • Numerous individuals were arrested for online speech or protests; two were convicted and handed multi-year prison sentences (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).
Introduction:

Internet freedom declined dramatically in the past year as the government imposed emergency rule to crack down on antigovernment protests and the digital tools citizens used to organize them.

The authoritarian government declared a six-month state of emergency in October 2016 following months of escalating protests. Starting in the Oromia region in November 2015 as a protest against the government’s plan to infringe on land belonging to the marginalized Oromo people, the protests spread across the country throughout 2016, turning into unprecedented demonstrations seeking regime change and democratic reform. Emergency rule derogated fundamental rights in violation of international standards,1 banned unauthorized protests, and allowed the authorities to arbitrarily arrest and detain citizens without charges. More than 21,000 people were arrested before the state of emergency was lifted in August 2017.

The state of emergency restricted certain online activities and the internet was shut down for several days. The authorities criminalized accessing or posting content related to the protests on social media, displaying antigovernment symbols or gestures, as well as efforts to communicate with “terrorist” groups—a category that includes exiled dissidents. Penalties included prison terms of between three and five years.

Numerous individuals were arrested for online activities, and two were convicted to long prison sentences. In May 2017, a prominent opposition activist, Yonatan Tesfaye, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison on terrorism charges based on Facebook posts in which he criticized the government’s handling of the Oromia protests. Also in May, Getachew Shiferaw, editor-in-chief of opposition outlet Negere Ethiopia, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison on subversion charges for Facebook comments published in support of an exiled journalist. He was released on time served.

The legal environment for internet freedom became more restrictive under the Computer Crime Proclamation enacted in June 2016, which criminalizes defamation and incitement. The proclamation also strengthens the government’s surveillance capabilities by enabling real-time monitoring or interception of communications.

Obstacles to Access:

(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

Internet and mobile phone networks were deliberately disrupted during antigovernment protests and student exams throughout the year. Meanwhile, poor infrastructure, obstructionist telecom policies, and a government monopoly on the information and communication technology (ICT) sector make ICT services prohibitively expensive for the majority of the population.

Availability and Ease of Access

Ethiopia is one of the least connected countries in the world with an internet penetration rate of only 15 percent in 2016, up from 12 percent the previous year, according to the latest data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).2 Mobile phone penetration is also low at 51 percent, up from 43 percent in 2015.3 Low penetration rates stem from underdeveloped telecommunications infrastructure, which is almost entirely absent from rural areas, where about 85 percent of the population resides. A handful of signal stations service the entire country, resulting in network congestion and frequent disconnection.4 In a typical small town, individuals often hike to the top of the nearest hill to find a mobile phone signal.

Access to ICT services remains prohibitively expensive for most Ethiopians, largely due to the government’s monopoly over the telecom sector, which provides consumers with few options. Prices are set by state-controlled EthioTelecom and kept artificially high.5 William Davison, Bloomberg’s Ethiopia correspondent, described the issue on Facebook in March 2016: “It cost me 44 birr ($2.05) to watch Al Jazeera’s latest 3-minute dispatch on Oromo protests using 4G network on my phone, which is not that much less than the average daily wage of a daily laborer in Ethiopia.”6 Ethiopians can spend an average of US$85 per month for limited mobile or fixed wireless internet access. Better quality services in neighboring Kenya and Uganda cost less than US$30 a month. One comparative assessment of internet affordability put Ethiopia among the world’s most expensive countries for access.7

Telecommunication devices, connection fees and other related costs are also beyond the means of many Ethiopians. As a result, Ethiopia has one of the lowest smartphone ownership rates in the world at only 4 percent, according to a 2016 Pew survey.8 Consequently, the majority of internet users rely on cybercafes for internet access. A typical internet user in the capital, Addis Ababa, pays between ETB 5 and 7 (US$ 0.25 to 0.35) for an hour of access. Because of the scarcity of internet cafes outside urban areas, however, rates in rural cybercafes are higher. In addition, digital literacy rates are generally low.

Connection speeds have been painstakingly slow for years, despite the rapid technological advances improving service quality in other countries. According to Akamai, the average connection speed in Ethiopia was 3 Mbps in the first quarter of 2017, significantly lower than the global average of 7.0 Mbps. In practice, such speeds result in extremely sluggish download times for even simple images. Logging into an email account and opening a single message can take as long as five minutes at a standard cybercafe with broadband in the capital, while attaching documents or images to an email can take eight minutes or more.9

Restrictions on Connectivity

Throughout 2016 and 2017, network traffic in and out of Ethiopia registered a significant decline as a result of continual throttling and repeated internet shutdowns.

Network shutdowns occurred several times during the coverage period:

  • During widespread antigovernment protests on August 6 and 7, 2016, internet services were completely inaccessible in the Amhara, Addis Ababa, and Oromia regions. The government responded to the protests with excessive force, resulting in the deaths of at least 100 people.10
  • In October 2016, mobile internet services were shut down for several days when the government declared a state of emergency.11 Mobile internet service and social media remained intermittently accessible for months (see Legal Environment).
  • The government shut down all telecommunications networks from May 30 to June 8 following the conviction of two human rights activists for online expression in May 2017 (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).12
  • In separate incidents in July 2016, August 2016, and June 2017, the authorities shut down fixed and mobile internet services in select regions to prevent students from cheating during national university exams.13

The ICT shutdowns were costly. According to October 2016 research by the Brookings Institution, network disruptions between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017 cost Ethiopia’s economy over USD $8.5 million.14 September 2017 research by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) calculated the economic cost of Ethiopia’s internet disruptions between 2015 and 2017 at nearly USD $3.5 million a day. Calculated separately, disruptions to apps cost nearly USD $875,000 a day.15

The Ethiopian government’s monopolistic control over the country’s telecommunications infrastructure via EthioTelecom enables it to restrict information flows and access to internet and mobile phone services. As a landlocked country, Ethiopia has no direct access to submarine cable landing stations; thus, it connects to the international internet via satellite, a fiber-optic cable that passes through Sudan and connects to its international gateway, and the SEACOM cable that connects through Djibouti to an international undersea cable. All connections to the international internet are completely centralized via EthioTelecom, enabling the government to cut off the internet at will.

ICT Market

State-owned EthioTelecom holds a firm monopoly over internet and mobile phone services as the country’s sole telecommunications service provider. Despite repeated international pressure to liberalize telecommunications in Ethiopia, the government refuses to ease its grip on the sector.16 The space for independent initiatives in the ICT sector, entrepreneurial or otherwise, is extremely limited.17

China is a key investor in Ethiopia’s telecommunications industry,18 with Zhongxing Telecommunication Corporation (ZTE) and Huawei currently serving as contractors to upgrade broadband networks to 4G in Addis Ababa and expand 3G networks elsewhere.19 The partnership has enabled Ethiopia’s authoritarian leaders to maintain their hold over the telecom sector,20 though the networks built by the Chinese firms have been criticized for their high cost and poor service.21 Furthermore, the contracts have led to increasing fears that the Chinese may also be assisting the authorities in developing more robust ICT censorship and surveillance capacities (see Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity).22 In December 2014, the Swedish telecom group Ericsson also partnered with the government to improve and repair the mobile network infrastructure,23 though ZTE remains the sector’s largest investor.

Onerous government regulations also stymie other aspects of the Ethiopian ICT market. For one, imported ICT items are tariffed at the same high rate as luxury items, unlike other imported goods such as construction materials and heavy duty machinery, which are given duty-free import privileges to encourage investments in infrastructure.24Ethiopians are required to register their laptops and tablets at the airport with the Ethiopian customs authority before they travel out of the country, ostensibly to prevent individuals from illegally importing electronic devices, though observers believe the requirement enables officials to monitor citizens’ ICT activities by accessing the devices without consent.25

Local software companies also suffer from heavy-handed government regulations, which do not prescribe fair, open, or transparent ways of evaluating and awarding bids for new software projects.26 Government companies are given priority for every kind of project, while smaller entrepreneurial software companies are completely overlooked, leaving few opportunities for local technology companies to thrive.

Cybercafes are subject to burdensome operating requirements under the 2002 Telecommunications (Amendment) Proclamation,27 which prohibit them from providing Voice-over-IP (VoIP) services, and mandate that owners obtain a license from EthioTelecom via an opaque process that can take months. In the past few years, EthioTelecom began enforcing its licensing requirements more strictly in response to the increasing spread of cybercafes, reportedly penalizing Muslim cafe owners more harshly. Violations of the requirements entail criminal liability, though no cases have been reported.28

Regulatory Bodies

The Ethiopian Telecommunications Agency (ETA) is the primary regulatory body overseeing the telecommunications sector. In practice, government executives have complete control over ICT policy and sector regulation.29 The Information Network Security Agency (INSA), a government agency established in 2011 and controlled by individuals with strong ties to the ruling regime,30 also has significant power to regulate the internet under its mandate to protect communications infrastructure and prevent cybercrime.

Limits on Content:

(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

Social media and communications platforms were repeatedly blocked throughout the coverage period. Self-censorship heightened following the state of emergency instituted in October 2016, which placed restrictions on the use of social media for certain types of speech.

Blocking and Filtering

One of the first African countries to censor the internet,31 Ethiopia has a nationwide, politically motivated internet blocking and filtering apparatus that is reinforced during sensitive political events.

Tests conducted by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) in December 2016 found a wide range of websites blocked in Ethiopia, including the websites of Ethiopian news outlets known for critical reporting, political opposition groups, LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex) groups, human rights organizations, and circumvention tools. In total, at least one hundred websites were inaccessible.32 OONI tests also found the mobile version of WhatsApp completely blocked.33

Other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were repeatedly blocked for periods of time throughout 2016 and 2017, limiting their utility for political organizing even when the internet had not been completely shut down.34 In one case unrelated to political unrest, the authorities also blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Viber, IMO, and Google+ to prevent cheating during university examinations in July 2016.35 The blocks followed a full internet blackout for the same reason (see Restrictions on Connectivity). A government spokesperson stated that blocking social media during the exam would help students concentrate.

However, some progovernment media organizations and commentators seemed to have exclusive access to social media during the block,36 which reinforced the popular belief that government supporters are not disadvantaged during shutdowns to the extent that citizens are. Tools that help internet users bypass censorship are frequently blocked in Ethiopia, but some may remain available for approved uses. When social media platforms were blocked in the past year, diaspora-based activists publicized virtual private networks (VPNs) to circumvent the censorship, but certain VPNs were also subsequently blocked.37 Local sources suspected progovernment commenters were reporting some tools to the authorities for enabling censorship circumvention.

Digital security tools and information are also blocked. The Amharic translation of the Electronic Frontier Foundations’ “Surveillance Self-Defense” web guide was blocked two weeks after it was published in October 2015.38 One source reported that keywords such as “proxy” yield no search results on unencrypted search engines,39 reflecting the government’s efforts to limit users’ access to proxy servers and other circumvention tools. Tor, a circumvention tool that enables users to browse anonymously, has been subject to restrictions since May 2012.40

To filter the internet, specific internet protocol (IP) addresses or domain names are generally blocked at the level of the EthioTelecom-controlled international gateway. Deep packet inspection (DPI), which blocks websites based on a keyword in the content of a website or communication, is also employed.41

There are no procedures for determining which websites are blocked or why, precluding any avenues for appeal. There are no published lists of blocked websites or publicly available criteria for how such decisions are made, and users are met with an error message when trying to access blocked content. The decision-making process does not appear to be controlled by a single entity, as various government bodies—including the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), EthioTelecom, and the ICT ministry—seem to be implementing their own lists, contributing to a phenomenon of inconsistent blocking. This lack of transparency is exacerbated by the fact that the government denies implementing censorship. Government officials flatly deny blocking websites or jamming international satellite operations, while also stating that the government has a legal and a moral responsibility to protect the Ethiopian public from extremist content.

Content Removal

Political content is often targeted for removal, often by way of threats from security officials who personally seek out users and bloggers to instruct them to take down certain content, particularly critical content on Facebook. The growing practice suggests that at least some voices within Ethiopia’s small online community are closely monitored. For instance, during antigovernment protests in Oromia, activists who wrote messages of solidarity for the protestors on Facebook were asked to delete their posts.42

Media, Diversity and Content Manipulation

Increasing repression of journalists and bloggers has had a major chilling effect on expression online, particularly in response to the spate of blogger arrests in the past few years (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities). Many bloggers publish anonymously to avoid reprisals,43 while fear of pervasive surveillance has also led to widespread self-censorship.

Self-censorship heightened during the state of emergency instituted in October 2016, which explicitly prohibited sharing information about protests through social media platforms, communicating with exiled dissident groups regarded as terrorists, organizing demonstrations, and displaying political gestures (see Legal Environment).

Lack of adequate funding is a significant challenge for independent online media in Ethiopia, as fear of government pressure dissuades local businesses from advertising with politically critical websites. A 2012 Advertising Proclamation also prohibits advertisements from firms “whose capital is shared by foreign nationals.”44 The process for launching a website on the local .et domain is expensive and demanding,45 requiring a business license from the Ministry of Trade and Industry and a permit from an authorized body.46 While the domestic blogosphere has been expanding, most blogs are hosted on international platforms or published by members of the diaspora.

Despite Ethiopia’s extremely low levels of internet access, the government employs an army of trolls to distort Ethiopia’s online information landscape.47 Opposition groups, journalists, and dissidents use the mocking Amharic colloquial term kokas to describe the progovernment commentators.48 Observers say the kokas regularly discuss Ethiopia’s economic growth in favorable terms and post derogatory comments about Ethiopian journalists and opposition groups on Facebook and Twitter. In return, they are known to receive benefits such as money, land, and employment promotions. The government also manipulates online content through propaganda that aims to convince Ethiopians that social media is a dangerous tool co-opted by opposition groups to spread hate and violence.49

Digital Activism

Online tools were essential for the mobilization of antigovernment protests throughout 2016, enabling activists to post information about the demonstrations and disseminate news about police brutality as the government cracked down on protesters.50 Digital activism was muted following the October 2016 state of emergency, which banned demonstrations and online mobilization. Repeated internet shutdowns and blocks on social media platforms also hindered mobilization efforts (see Blocking and Filtering and Restrictions on Connectivity).

Violations of User Rights:

(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

A state of emergency declared in October 2016 derogated fundamental rights and restricted certain online activities. The Computer Crime Proclamation enacted in June 2016 criminalizes defamation and incitement; observers say it could be invoked to suppress digital mobilization. The proclamation also strengthens the government’s surveillance capabilities by enabling real-time monitoring and interception of communications. Numerous individuals were arrested for online activities, particularly protests, while two people were sentenced to prison for several years each during the coverage period.

Legal Environment

The government imposed a six-month state of emergency in October 2016 and shut down the internet for several days to quell escalating antigovernment protests. Specific online activities were restricted under emergency rule.51 The authorities criminalized accessing or posting content related to the protests on social media, as well as efforts to communicate with “terrorist” groups, a category that includes exiled dissidents. Penalties included prison terms of three to five years.52 Emergency rule also undermined fundamental rights, banning unauthorized protests, and allowing the authorities to arbitrarily arrest and detain citizens without charge. More than 21,000 people were arrested before the state of emergency was lifted in August 2017, according to news reports.53

Fundamental freedoms are guaranteed for Ethiopian internet users on paper, but the guarantees are routinely flouted in practice. The 1995 Ethiopian constitution provides for freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and access to information, while also prohibiting censorship.54 These constitutional guarantees are affirmed in the 2008 Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation, known as the press law, which governs the print media.55 Nevertheless, the press law also includes problematic provisions that contradict constitutional protections and restrict free expression, such as complex registration processes for media outlets and heavy fines for defamation.56The Criminal Code also penalizes defamation with a fine or up to one year in prison.57

Meanwhile, several laws are designed to restrict and penalize legitimate online activities and speech. Most alarmingly, the 2012 Telecom Fraud Offences Law extends the violations and penalties defined in the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and criminal code to electronic communications sent over mobile phone and internet services.58The antiterrorism legislation prescribes prison sentences of up to 20 years for the publication of statements that can be understood as a direct or indirect encouragement of terrorism, which is vaguely defined.59 The law also bans Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype60 and requires all individuals to register their telecommunications equipment—including smartphones—with the government, which security officials typically enforce at security checkpoints by confiscating ICT equipment if the owner cannot produce a registration permit, according to sources in the country.

In June 2016, the Ethiopian government passed a new Computer Crime Proclamation that criminalized an array of online activities.61 For example, content that “incites fear, violence, chaos or conflict among people” can be punished with up to three years in prison, which could be abused to suppress digital campaigns.62 Other problematic provisions ban the dissemination of defamatory content, which can be penalized with up to 10 years in prison,63 and the distribution of unsolicited messages to multiple emails (spam), which carries up to five years in prison.64 Civil society expressed concern that the law would be used to further crackdown on critical commentary, political opposition, and social unrest.65

Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities

The authorities intensified their crackdown against bloggers, online journalists, and activists during the state of emergency in the past year. The antigovernment protest movement led to thousands of arrests, some for digital activities such as posting or “liking” social media content about the protests. Examples include the following:

  • In October 2016, police arrested Seyoum Teshome, a well-known academic and blogger for the Ethiopian Think Tank Group, who had published an article about the Oromia protest movement in The New York Times.66 Teshome was held in prison for three months, during which he reported suffering severe torture (see Intimidation and Violence).67
  • In November 2016, political activists Anania Sorri and Daniel Shibeshi and journalist Elias Gebru were arrested for posting images of themselves on social media displaying a gesture indicating support for the protest movement. Protest gestures and symbols were banned under emergency rule.68
  • In December 2016, seven musicians behind a popular YouTube music video were arrested and held without charge until June 2017, when they were charged with terrorism. The video was held to incite protests.69

Two cases led to convictions and multi-year prison sentences during the coverage period:

  • In May 2017, the prominent opposition activist Yonatan Tesfaye, was found guilty of terrorism based on Facebook posts that criticized the government’s handling of the Oromia protests.70 He was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.71 Tesfaye’s Twitter handle has been active since his detention, leading to suspicions that the officials were using his account to monitor other dissidents or encourage them to break the law.72
  • Also in May, Getachew Shiferaw, the editor-in-chief of the opposition outlet Negere Ethiopia, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison on subversion charges for Facebook comments were considered to “endorse” an exiled journalist.73 He was released on time served.

Bloggers from the critical Zone 9 blogging collective were repeatedly persecuted during the coverage period, continuing several years of unabated legal troubles and harassment. The bloggers were first arrested in April 2014 and charged with terrorism under the harsh Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.74 They were accused of intent to overthrow the government, an offense under the criminal code, by encrypting their communications to disseminate seditious writings.75 Denied bail and brought to court dozens of times for sham trials,76 the bloggers were eventually acquitted in late 2015, but the prosecutor appealed to the Supreme Court, and they were repeatedly summoned to appear throughout 2016.77 In April 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that two of the Zone9 bloggers, Atnaf Berhane and Natnail Feleke, should be tried on charges of inciting violence through their writing. If convicted, they would face up to 10 years each in prison.78

Other citizens were serving long prison sentences during the coverage period, including blogger Zelalem Workagenehu, who was found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to over five years in prison in May 2016.79 He was first arrested in July 2014 on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government after he facilitated a course on digital security. Well-known dissident journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega is serving an 18-year prison sentence handed down in July 2012 under the draconian anti-terrorism law for criticizing the law itself in an online article.80

Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity

Government surveillance of online and mobile phone communications is pervasive in Ethiopia and was strengthened under the new Computer Crime Proclamation enacted in June 2016, which enables real-time monitoring or interception of communications authorized by the Minister of Justice and obliges service providers to store records of all communications and metadata for at least a year.81

There are strong indications that the government has deployed a centralized monitoring system developed by the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE to monitor mobile phone networks and the internet, according to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report.82 Known for its use by repressive regimes in Libya and Iran, the monitoring system enables deep packet inspection (DPI) of internet traffic across the EthioTelecom network and has the ability to intercept emails and web chats.

A customer management database called ZSmart, also developed by ZTE, has been installed by EthioTelecom. The database provides the government with full access to user information and the ability to intercept SMS text messages and record phone conversations.83 ZSmart also allows security officials to locate targeted individuals through real-time geolocation tracking of mobile phones.84 While the extent to which the government has made use of the full range of ZTE’s sophisticated surveillance systems is unclear, the authorities frequently present intercepted emails and phone calls as evidence during trials against journalists and bloggers or during interrogations as a scare tactic.85

Meanwhile, exiled dissidents have been targeted by surveillance malware. Citizen Lab research published in March 2015 said Remote Control System (RCS) spyware had been used against two employees of Ethiopian Satellite Television Service (ESAT) in November and December 2014. ESAT is a diaspora-run independent satellite television, radio, and online news media outlet, based in Alexandria, Virginia.86 Made by the Italian company Hacking Team, RCS spyware is advertised as “offensive technology” sold exclusively to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and has the ability to steal files and passwords and intercept Skype calls and chats. 87

While Hacking Team has said that the company does not deal with “repressive regimes,”88 the social engineering tactics used to bait the two ESAT employees made it clear that the attack was targeted. Moreover, analysis of the RCS attacks uncovered credible links to the Ethiopian government, with the spyware’s servers registered at an EthioTelecom address under the name “INSA-PC,” referring to the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), the body established in 2011 to preside over the security of the country’s critical communications infrastructure.89 INSA was already known to be using the commercial toolkit FinFisher to target dissidents and supposed national security threats. FinFisher can secretly monitor computers by turning on webcams, record everything a user types with a key logger, and intercept Skype calls.90

Political commentators use VPNs and anonymizing tools to hide their identities when publishing online and to circumvent filtering, though the tools are also subject to blocking (see Blocking and Filtering).

Anonymity is further compromised by strict SIM card registration requirements. Upon purchase of a SIM card through EthioTelecom or an authorized reseller, individuals must provide their full name, address, government-issued identification number, and a passport photograph. EthioTelecom’s database of SIM registrants enables the government to terminate SIM cards and bar individuals from registering for new ones. Internet subscribers are also required to register their personal details, including their home address, with the government. During the antigovernment protests in 2016, state-owned ICT provider EthioTelecom announced plans to require mobile phones to be purchased from Ethiopian companies and to create a tracking system for all mobile devices in Ethiopia. Though no updates on the plans were reported in 2017, observers believe the plan aims to allow the government to track and identify all communications from subscribers on its network.91

Intimidation and Violence

During escalating antigovernment protests throughout 2016, the authorities routinely harassed, detained, and abused people who used their mobile phones to record footage of demonstrations. Under emergency rule, the authorities reportedly arrested thousands of people, some for their online activities. Imprisoned bloggers reported being held in degrading conditions and tortured by prison guards seeking to extract false confessions.92 In one case, blogger Seyoum Teshome, who was arrested after the publication of his critical New York Times op-ed, reported suffering severe torture while in detention from October to December 2016.93

Government security agents frequently harass and intimidate bloggers, online journalists, and internet users. Independent bloggers are often summoned by the authorities to be warned against discussing certain topics online, while activists report that they are regularly threatened by state security agents.94 Ethiopian journalists in the diaspora have also been targeted for harassment.95

Technical Attacks

There were no reports of technical attacks against human rights defenders or dissidents during the coverage period, though incidents are likely underreported. Opposition critics have faced frequent technical attacks in the past, even abroad. Observers believe similar campaigns against activists persist undetected. Independent research has shown that Ethiopian authorities use sophisticated surveillance spyware to target exiled dissidents.96

Notes:

1 Human Rights Watch, “Legal Analysis of Ethiopia’s State of Emergency,” October 30, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/30/legal-analysis-ethiopias-state-emergency

2 International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet, 2000-2016,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY

3 International Telecommunication Union, “Mobile-Cellular Telephone Subscriptions, 2000-2016,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY

4 Endalk Chala, “When blogging is held hostage of Ethiopia’s telecom policy,” in “GV Advocacy Awards Essays on Internet Censorship from Iran, Venezuela, Ethiopia,” Global Voices (blog), February 3, 2015,http://bit.ly/1OpDvzz

5 Ethiopia – Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts, Paul Budde Communication Pty Ltd.: June 2014, http://bit.ly/1ji15Rn

6 William Davison’s Facebook post, March 26, 2016, https://www.facebook.com/william.davison.33/posts/10153956834545792?pnref=story

8 Jacob Poushter, “Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage Continues to Climb in Emerging Economies,” Pew Research Center, February 22, 2016, http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/02/22/smartphone-ownership-and-internet-usage-continues-to-climb-in-emerging-economies/

9 According to tests by Freedom House consultant in 2016.

11 Stephanie Busari, “Ethiopia declares state of emergency after months of protests,” CNN, October 11, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/09/africa/ethiopia-oromo-state-emergency/; Endalk Chala, “Ethiopian authorities shut down mobile internet and major social media sites,” Global Voices (blog), October 11, 2016, https://globalvoices.org/2016/10/11/ethiopian-authorities-shut-down-mobile-internet-and-major-social-media-sites/

12 “Ethiopia: Third Internet shutdown follows imprisonment of two human rights activists,” Article 19, June 7, 2017, https://www.ifex.org/ethiopia/2017/06/06/internet-shutdown/

13 Paul Schemm, “Ethiopia shuts down social media to keep from ‘distracting’ students,” Washington Post, July 13, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/07/13/ethiopia-shuts-down-social-media-to-keep-from-distracting-students/http://www.newsweek.com/ethiopia-internet-blocked-618806

14 Darrell M. West, “Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion last year,” Brookings Institute, Center for Technology Innovation, October 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/intenet-shutdowns-v-3.pdf

15 “Economic Impact of Internet Disruptions in Sub-Saharan Africa,” CIPESA, September 2017, https://cipesa.org/2017/09/economic-impact-of-internet-disruptions-in-sub-saharan-africa/

16 “Ethio Telecom to remain monopoly for now,” TeleGeography, June 28, 2013, http://bit.ly/1huyjf7

17 Al Shiferaw, “Connecting Telecentres: An Ethiopian Perspective,” Telecentre Magazine, September 2008, http://bit.ly/1ji348h.

18 Paul Chapman, “New report explores the Ethiopian – telecoms, mobile and broadband – market insights, statistics and forecasts,” WhatTech, May 1, 2015, http://bit.ly/1L46Awu.

19 “Out of reach,” The Economist, August 24, 2013, http://econ.st/1l1UvJO.

20 “Out of reach,” The Economist.

21 Matthew Dalton, “Telecom Deal by China’s ZTE, Huawei in Ethiopia Faces Criticism,” The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2014, http://on.wsj.com/1LtSCkD.

22 Based on allegations that the Chinese authorities have provided the Ethiopian government with technology that can be used for political repression—such as surveillance cameras and satellite jamming equipment—in the past. See: Addis Neger, “Ethiopia: China Involved in ESAT Jamming,” ECADAF Ethiopian news & Opinion, June 23, 2010, http://bit.ly/1LtSYI9; Gary Sands, “Ethiopia’s Broadband Network – A Chinese Trojan Horse?” Foreign Policy Blogs, Foreign Policy Association, September 6, 2013, http://bit.ly/1FWG8X1.

23 ENA, “Ericsson to take part in telecom expansion in Ethiopia,” Dire Tube, December 18, 2014, http://bit.ly/1PkZfvA.

24 The Embassy of the United Stated, “Doing Business in Ethiopia,” http://1.usa.gov/1LtTExh.

25 World Intellectual Property Organization, “Ethiopia Custom Regulation: No 622/2009,” http://bit.ly/1NveoeB.

26 Mignote Kassa, “Why Ethiopia’s Software Industry Falters,” Addis Fortune 14, no. 700 (September 29, 2013), http://bit.ly/1VJiIWC.

27 “Proclamation No. 281/2002, Telecommunications (Amendment Proclamation,” Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 28, July 2, 2002, http://bit.ly/1snLgsc.

28 Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency, “License Directive for Resale and Telecenter in Telecommunication Services No. 1/2002,” November 8, 2002, accessed October 20, 2014, http://bit.ly/1pUtpWh.

29 Dr. Lishan Adam, “Understanding what is happening in ICT in Ethiopia,” (policy paper, Research ICT Africa, 2012) http://bit.ly/1LDPyJ5.

30 Halefom Abraha, “THE STATE OF CYBERCRIME GOVERNANCE IN ETHIOPIA,” (paper) http://bit.ly/1huzP0S.

31 Rebecca Wanjiku, “Study: Ethiopia only sub-Saharan Africa nation to filter net,” IDG News Service, October 8, 2009, http://bit.ly/1Lbi3s9.

32 Test conducted by an anonymous researcher contracted by Freedom House, March 2016. During the test, some websites opened at the first attempt but were inaccessible when refreshed.

33 Maria Xynou et al., “Ethiopia: Evidence of social media blocking and internet censorship,” OONI, December 14, 2016, https://ooni.torproject.org/post/ethiopia-report/

34 Felix Horne, “Deafening silence from Ethiopia,” Foreign Policy in Focus, April 12, 2016, http://fpif.org/deafening-silence-ethiopia/; Endalk Chala, “Ethiopia locks down digital communications in wake of #OromoProtests,” Global Voices (blog), July 14, 2016, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2016/07/14/ethiopia-locks-down-digital-communications-in-wake-of-oromoprotests/https://phys.org/news/2017-06-internet-social-media-ethiopia-block.html

35 Nicole Orttung, “Why did Ethiopia block social media,” Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 2016, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/2016/0712/Why-did-Ethiopia-block-social-media?cmpid=gigya-tw

36 According to activists who were able to circumvent the blocks and observe the social media activities of progoverment users.

37 Ismail Akwei, “Ethiopia blocks social media to prevent university exam leakage,” Africa News, July 10, 2016, http://www.africanews.com/2016/07/10/ethiopia-blocks-social-media-to-prevent-university-exam-leakage/

38 Endalk Chala, “Defending against overreaching surveillance in Ethiopia: Surveillance Self-Defense now availabile in Amharic,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, October 1, 2015,https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/09/defending-against-overreaching-surveillance-ethiopia-surveillance-self-defense-n-0

39 A 2014 report from Human Rights Watch also noted that the term “aljazeera” was unsearchable on Google while the news site was blocked from August 2012 to mid-March 2013. According to HRW research, the keywords “OLF” and “ONLF” (acronyms of Ethiopian opposition groups) are not searchable on the unencrypted version of Google (http://) and other popular search engines. Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” March 25, 2014, 56, 58, http://bit.ly/1Nviu6r.

40 “Tor and Orbot not working in Ethiopia,” Tor Stack Exchange, message board, April 12, 2016,

http://tor.stackexchange.com/questions/10148/tor-and-orbot-not-working-in-ethiopia; “Ethiopia Introduces Deep Packet Inspection,” Tor (blog), May 31, 2012, http://bit.ly/1A0YRdc; Warwick Ashford, “Ethiopian government blocks Tor network online anonymity,” Computer Weekly, June 28, 2012, http://bit.ly/1LDQ5L2.

41 Daniel Berhane, “Ethiopia’s web filtering: advanced technology, hypocritical criticisms, bleeding constitution,” Horns Affairs, January 16, 2011, http://bit.ly/1jTyrH1

42 Kevin Mwanza, “Is Ethiopia restricting access to social media in Oromia region?” Afk Insider, April 13, 2016, http://afkinsider.com/123180/ethiopia-restricting-access-social-media-oromia-region/

43 Markos Lemma, “Disconnected Ethiopian Netizens,” Digital Development Debates (blog),November 2012,  http://bit.ly/1Ml9Nu3.

44 Exemptions are made for foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin. See, Abrham Yohannes, “Advertisement Proclamation No. 759/2012,” Ethiopian Legal Brief (blog), September 27, 2012, http://bit.ly/1LDQf5c.

45 “Proclamation No. 686/2010 Commercial Registration and Business Licensing,” Federal Negarit Gazeta, July 24, 2010, http://bit.ly/1P3PoLy; World Bank Group, Doing Business 2015: Going Beyond Efficiency, Economy Profile 2015, Ethiopia, 2014, http://bit.ly/1L49tO6.

46 Chala, “When blogging is held hostage of Ethiopia’s telecom policy.”

47 “Ethiopia Trains Bloggers to attack its opposition,” ECADF Ethiopian News & Opinions, June 7, 2014, http://bit.ly/1QemZjl.

48 The term “Koka” is a blend of two words: Kotatam and cadre. Kotatam is a contemptuous Amharic word used to imply that someone is a sellout who does not have a respect for himself or herself.

49 Endalk Chala, “Ethiopia protest videos show state brutality, despite tech barriers,” Global Voices (blog), January 6, 2016, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2016/01/06/ethiopia-protest-videos-show-state-brutality-despite-tech-barriers/

50 Jacey Fortin, “The ugly side of Ethiopia’s economic boom,” Foreign Policy, March 23, 2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/03/23/no-one-feels-like-they-have-any-right-to-speak-at-all-ethiopia-oromo-protests/

51 “Seven things banned under Ethiopia’s state of emergency,” BBC News, October 17, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37679165

52 “Social media blackout in Ethiopia,” Jacarandafm, October 17, 2016, https://www.jacarandafm.com/news-sport/news/social-media-blackout-in-ethiopia/

53 “Ethiopia lifts state of emergency imposed in October,” Associated Press, August 4, 2017, http://www.startribune.com/ethiopia-lifts-state-of-emergency-imposed-in-october/438488273/

54 Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1995), art. 26 and 29, accessed, August 24, 2010, http://www.ethiopar.net/constitution.

55 Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation No. 590/2008, Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 64, December 4, 2008.

56 Article 19, The Legal Framework for Freedom of Expression in Ethiopia, accessed September 10, 2014, http://bit.ly/1Pl0f33.

57 Criminal Code, art. 613, http://bit.ly/1OpHE6F.

58 Article 19, “Ethiopia: Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offences,”legal analysis, August 6, 2012, http://bit.ly/1Lbonjm.

59 “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009,” Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 57, August 28, 2009.

60 The government first instituted the ban on VoIP in 2002 after it gained popularity as a less expensive means of communication and began draining revenue from the traditional telephone business belonging to the state-owned EthioTelecom. In response to widespread criticisms, the government claimed that VoIP applications such as Skype would not be considered under the new law, though the proclamation’s language still enables the authorities to interpret it broadly at whim.

61 “Ethiopia Computer Crime Proclamation Text Draft,” Addis Insight, May 9, 2016, http://www.addisinsight.com/2016/05/09/ethiopia-computer-crime-proclamation-text-draft/

63 Article 13, “Crimes against Liberty and Reputation of Persons,” Computer Crime Proclamation.

64 Article 15, “Dissemination of Spam,” Computer Crime Proclamation,

65 Kimberly Carlson, “Ethiopia’s new Cybercrime Law allows for more efficient and systematic prosecution of online speech,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, June 9, 2016,https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/06/ethiopias-new-cybercrime-law-allows-more-efficient-and-systematic-prosecution-online; Tinishu Soloman, “New Ethiopian law targets online crime,” The Africa Report, June 9, 2016, http://www.theafricareport.com/East-Horn-Africa/new-ethiopian-law-targets-online-crime.html

66 “Oromo protests: Ethiopia arrests blogger Seyoum Teshome,” Al Jazeera, October 5, 2016,

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/oromo-protests-ethiopia-arrests-blogger-seyoum-teshome-161005071925586.html

67 “Seyoum Teshome released,” Frontline Defenders, accessed October 30, 2017, https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/seyoum-teshome-released

70 Salem Soloman, “Ethiopia’s Anti-terrorism Law: Security or Silencing Dissent?” VOA News, May 31, 2016, http://www.voanews.com/a/ethiopia-anti-terrorism-law-security-silencing-dissent/3356633.html

71 “Ethiopia jails opposition politician Yonatan Tesfaye,” Al Jazeera, May 26, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/ethiopian-court-jails-politician-6-years-170525141848655.html

72 @befeqadu Twitter post, April 12, 2016, https://twitter.com/befeqadu/status/719963259911188480/photo/1

73 “News: Ethiopia editor-in-chief sentenced for a year and half in prison, time he already served,” Addis Standard, May 26, 2017 “http://addisstandard.com/news-ethiopia-editor-in-chief-sentenced-for-a-year-and-half-in-prison-time-he-already-served/

74 “Six members of Zone Nine, group of bloggers and activists are arrested,” [in Amharic] Zone9 (blog), April 25, 2014, http://bit.ly/1VJn6ow; “Federal High Court Lideta Criminal Bench court, Addis Ababa,”http://1drv.ms/1OqAjlC.

75 Endalk Chala, “What You Need to Know About Ethiopia v. Zone9 Bloggers: Verdict Expected July 20,” Global Voices (blog), July 17, 2015, http://bit.ly/1jTDO9b.

76 Ellery Roberts Biddle, Endalk Chala, Guardian Africa network, “One year on, jailed Ethiopian bloggers are still awaiting trial,” The Guardian, April 24, 2015, http://gu.com/p/47ktv/stw; “Nine Journalists and Bloggers Still Held Arbitrarily,” Reporters Without Borders, “Nine Journalists and Bloggers Still Held Arbitrarily,” August 21, 2014, http://bit.ly/1P3TW4I.

77 “Netizen Report: Ethiopia’s Zone9 Bloggers Go Back to Court,” Global Voices (blog), March 30, 2016, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2016/03/30/netizen-report-ethiopias-zone9-bloggers-go-back-to-court/

78 “Ethiopia Supreme Court says two Zone 9 bloggers should face incitement charges,” CPJ, April 6, 2017, https://cpj.org/2017/04/ethiopia-supreme-court-says-two-zone-9-bloggers-sh.php

79 Tedla D. Tekle, “Ethiopian blogger and activist sentences to five years and four months,” Global Voices (blog), May 16, 2016, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2016/05/16/ethiopian-blogger-and-activist-sentenced-to-five-years-and-four-months/

80 Such trumped-up charges were based on an online column Nega had published criticizing the government’s use of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to silence political dissent and calling for greater political freedom in Ethiopia. Nega is also the 2011 recipient of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.“That Bravest and Most Admirable of Writers: PEN Salutes Eskinder Nega,” PEN American Center (blog), April 13, 2012, http://bit.ly/1Lm89Y7; See also, Markos Lemma, “Ethiopia: Online Reactions to Prison Sentence for Dissident Blogger,” Global Voices, July 15, 2012, http://bit.ly/1OpKaKf; EndalkChala, “Ethiopia: Freedom of Expression in Jeopardy,” Global Voices Advocacy, February 3, 2012, http://bit.ly/1jfIEO3.

81 Article 23, “Retention of Computer Data” and Article 24, “Real-time Collection of Computer Data,” http://hornaffairs.com/en/2016/05/09/ethiopia-computer-crime-proclamation/

82 Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” 62.

83 Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” 67.

84 Ibid, 52.

85 Committee to Protect Journalists, “Ethiopian Blogger, Journalists Convicted of Terrorism,” January 19, 2012, http://cpj.org/x/47b9.

86 Bill Marczak et al., Hacking Team Reloaded? US-Based Ethiopian Journalists Again Targeted with Spyware, Citizen Lab, March 9, 2015, http://bit.ly/1Ryogmr.

87 Hacking Team,“Customer Policy,” accessed February 13, 2014, http://hackingteam.it/index.php/customer-policy.

88  Declan McCullagh, “Meet the ‘Corporate Enemies of the Internet’ for 2013,” CNET, March 11, 2013, accessed February 13, 2014, http://cnet.co/1fo6jJZ.

89 Marczak et al., Hacking Team Reloaded? US-Based Ethiopian Journalists Again Targeted with Spyware.

90 Fahmida Y. Rashid, “FinFisher ‘Lawful Interception’ Spyware Found in Ten Countries, Including the U.S.,” Security Week, August 8, 2012, http://bit.ly/1WRPuap.

91 Endalk Chala, “Ethiopia Locks Down Digital Communications in Wake of #OromoProtests.”

92 Tedla D. Tekle, “’I was forced to drink my own urine,’: ‘Freedom’ for netizen after 647 days locked up, but not for all.”

93 Seyoum Teshome, “A license to torture,“ Amnesty International, March 28, 2017, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2017/03/a-license-to-torture/

94 SIMEGNISH (LILY) MENGESHA, “CRAWLING TO DEATH OF EXPRESSION – RESTRICTED ONLINE MEDIA IN ETHIOPIA,” Center for International Media Assistance (blog), April 8, 2015, http://bit.ly/1IbxFie.

95 “ክንፉ አሰፋ በስለላ ከሆላንድ የተባረረው የጋዜጠኛውን አንገት እቆርጣለሁ አለ,” ECADAF Ethiopian News & Opinion, April 12, 2015, http://ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/14790/.

96 Marczak et al., Hacking Team Reloaded? US-Based Ethiopian Journalists Again Targeted with Spyware, March 2015, https://citizenlab.ca/2015/03/hacking-team-reloaded-us-based-ethiopian-journalists-targeted-spyware/ .

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Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2017: Ethiopia Profile: Not free and in downward trends with political rights and civil liberties: Aggregate score of 12/100 February 2, 2017

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Overview:

Ethiopia is an authoritarian state ruled by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which has been in power since 1991 and currently holds every seat in Parliament. Multiple flawed elections, including most recently in 2015, showcased the government’s willingness to brutally repress the opposition and its supporters, journalists, and activists. Muslims and members of the Oromo ethnic group have been specifically singled out. Perceived political opponents are regularly harassed, detained, and prosecuted—often under the guise of Ethiopia’s deeply flawed Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation drastically impeded the activities of civil society groups.

Key Developments:
  • Hundreds of people were killed in a crackdown on antigovernment protests that took place primarily in the Oromia and Amhara regions throughout much of the year. The Ethiopian government admitted to at least 500 deaths since the protests began in November 2015, while some human rights organizations report up to 800.
  • Thousands of people have been detained in connection with the protests, and reports of mistreatment, including torture, while in custody are rife.
  • In early October, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced a six-month state of emergency that gives the government sweeping powers to deploy the military, further restrict speech and the media, impose curfews and movement restrictions, and monitor communications.
  • Throughout the year, the authorities disrupted internet and mobile phone networks, and temporarily blocked social-media platforms and certain news websites, in an effort to prevent people from organizing and communicating about the protests.
Executive Summary:

Ethiopia was wracked by protests throughout much of 2016, a result of widespread and growing discontent with ethnic and political marginalization and repressive rule by EPRDF. The largely peaceful protests were frequently put down violently by the security forces. The protests had begun over ethnic and land rights in November 2015 in the Oromia region, and intensified in 2016, with significant additional protests in Addis Ababa and the Amhara region.

In January, the government withdrew the contentious Addis Ababa Master Plan, which had been the rallying point for Oromo protesters who alleged that thousands of farmers would be displaced from their ancestral lands to make way for the capital’s expansion. However, the announcement did little to staunch larger discontent with the EPRDF, and demonstrations took on broader antigovernment dimensions and appealed to Ethiopians across ethnic lines. The protests were regularly met with excessive force by the police and the military, including the use of live ammunition and tear gas against crowds. Tens of thousands of people were detained in police sweeps, and reports of mistreatment, including beatings and torture while in custody, were widespread. Among those arrested or charged were leaders of the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress, including party chairman Merera Gudina and deputy chairman Bekele Gerba. In October, the government admitted that more than 500 people had been killed in connection with the protests since November 2015, though some rights organizations reported that the true figure is at least 800.

In early October, the government announced a nationwide six-month state of emergency, enacting sweeping powers to deploy the military, restrict speech and the media, impose curfews and movement restrictions, and monitor communications. According to some estimates, nearly 24,000 Ethiopians were detained under the state of emergency, although about 10,000 were released in December. The demonstrations subsided in the wake of the emergency decree, but the government has taken little action to address the grievances of the protesters.

In September, the government pardoned some 700 prisoners in its annual gesture, including 135 Muslims who had been convicted on terrorism charges. However, key religious, ethnic, and political leaders, as well as at least 16 journalists, remained behind bars, and a number of new arrests occurred in 2016; countless other political dissidents are still facing terrorism charges in lengthy and ongoing trials.

Tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea reached a boiling point in June, when the two militaries skirmished at the northern border town of Tsorona before returning to an uneasy peace.

 

The full report for this country or territory will be published as soon as it becomes available.

Freedom House: WhatsApp, Facebook blocked in Ethiopia after protestors killed by security forces. August 9, 2016

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Freedom House

Viber, twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp Are strictly forbidden in Fascist regime (TPLF) Ethiopia

WhatsApp, Facebook blocked in Ethiopia after protestors killed by security forces

Ethiopian migrants, all members of the Oromo community of Ethiopia living in Malta, protest against the Ethiopian regime in Valletta, 21 December 2015
Ethiopian migrants, all members of the Oromo community of Ethiopia living in Malta, protest against the Ethiopian regime in Valletta, 21 December 2015

REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

This statement was originally published on freedomhouse.org on 8 August 2016.

In response to Ethiopian security forces killing dozens of protesters in the Amhara and Oromia regions during protests on August 6-7, Freedom House issued the following statement:

“The government of Ethiopia should immediately end its murderous violence targeting citizens demanding equitable distribution of resources and open government,” said Vukasin Petrovic, director for Africa programs. “Authorities should respect citizens’ constitutional right to peacefully assemble and express their views, and should meet their demands for greater democracy.”

Background:

Ethiopia security forces have detained thousands of demonstrators and killed hundreds of citizens in the clashes that occurred between November 2015 and July 2016, in response to protests in Oromia that began late last year. In July 2016, the protests spread to the Amhara region, where dozens of protestors have died.

Detailed, independently-verified information remains difficult to obtain due to the government’s suppression of independent media and rights monitoring groups. In recent days, the government blocked social media message applications, including Facebook, Twitter, Viber and WhatsApp.

Ethiopia is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2016, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2016, and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2015.


https://www.ifex.org/ethiopia/2016/08/08/protestors_killed/


 

Freedom House: Ethiopia: Attack on Civil Society Escalates as Dissent Spreads. #OromoProtests July 22, 2016

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#OromoProtests in Yabello, Borana, Oromia, July 20, 2016 p2#OromoProtests continues in Oromia, 19 July 2016.


Ethiopia: Attack on Civil Society Escalates as Dissent Spreads


Freedom House 22 July 2016

by Yoseph Badwaza, Program Officer, Africa and
Jennifer Charette, Senior Program Associate, Africa


Amid discontent, sometimes violent protests, and a drought of historic proportions that has left more than 15 million Ethiopians in need of urgent food aid, the Ethiopian government is tightening its stranglehold on domestic politics.

In the wake of the large-scale protests that rocked the Oromia region from November to March, the government, led by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has taken a number of measures aimed at stifling dissent. While consistent with EPRDF’s authoritarian posture, these steps are a devastating blow to the country’s independent media and civil society.

Protests in Oromia and growing ethnic tensions in the Amhara and South regions are viewed as indications that EPRDF’s model of governing through complete control over all levels of political and economic life could soon reach its breaking point. The government’s intolerance of alternative political views is pushing the country’s diverse ethnic and political communities to take to the streets to air their grievances.

While the initial trigger for the protests in Oromia was opposition to an unpopular government development plan, the scale and persistence of the protests in the country’s largest and most populous region point to a deeper ethnic discontent after years of misrule. These developments are even more worrisome as deadly protests began to emerge in several parts of the country less than six months after EPRDF and its allies claimed to have won all 547 parliamentary seats in the latest general elections in May 2015.

Ethiopia’s perceived stability and its much-touted role in the global fight against terrorism in the Horn of Africa are at stake if EPRDF continues to ignore the dangers of suppressing citizens’ legitimate demands for inclusive and accountable governance. Any economic progress can only be sustained with a genuine commitment to political reform that adequately responds to the demands of Ethiopia’s diverse political, ethnic, and religious groups for participation at all levels of public life.

Tools of repression tightened

The protests brought a violent response from authorities. In addition toextrajudicial killings of hundreds of protesters in the Oromia and Amhara regions, security forces arrested thousands of students, social media activists, and opposition party leaders and supporters. As protests continue in some parts of Oromia, authorities have filed criminal charges against dozens of Oromo students and political activists under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP). Hundreds more remain in custody without charges.

In response to the role social media played in publicizing human rights violations perpetrated during the protests in Oromia, Ethiopia’s parliament rushed through a cybercrimes law in June. The law stipulates serious penalties for a wide range of online activities and gives authorities greater surveillance and censorship powers that will limit access to information on digital platforms. The adoption of this law followed a shutdown of Facebook, Viber, and WhatsApp in parts of the Oromia region. Authorities also cited social media posts as evidence in criminal charges brought against digital activists. These social media posts were images, videos, and audio recordings made during the protests that documented numerous incidents of heavy-handed response to peaceful demonstrators.

Last week the government publicly stated for the first time that it is blocking these social media applications nationwide, claiming that they are adistraction to students taking university entrance exams.

Civil society under renewed attack

In June, the Charities and Societies Agency, the government body that regulates nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), announced that it hadshut down more than 200 NGOs in the last nine months. The agency cited failure to comply with numerous requirements of the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) and lack of funding as reasons for the closures. The announcement followed the agency issuing a directive that seeks to impose penalties for noncompliance with the CSP. By issuing this directive, the agency effectively gave itself quasi-judicial powers in criminal proceedings.

Although it is not clear what triggered this latest directive, the move exacerbates the harsh conditions under which civil society organizations are operating. By paving the way for increased imposition of penalties, the Charities and Societies Agency will further undermine civil society’s ability to operate independently. Furthermore, these measures suggest a reversal of the willingness that the government had shown in the past few years to engage in a dialogue aimed at revising some of the directives previously issued by the agency.

Citizen support for civil society remains strong

While the government continues to take measures that undermine civil society, popular support for civil society remains strong. According to arecent online survey conducted by Freedom House, two-thirds of those polled believe that civil society organizations should engage in human rights and democracy promotion. The survey also found that Ethiopians are unaware of the significant challenges facing civil society and of the crippling effects of the CSP. The survey findings underscore how a blackout of information from independent sources and constrained civic space curtail citizens’ ability to organize and participate in matters that affect their daily lives.

Years of government attacks, relentless smear campaigns, and extremely cumbersome rules and regulatory frameworks have crippled Ethiopia’s civil society. NGOs are denied access to resources and the ability to network with each other and mobilize support. As demand for democratic reforms in Ethiopia gains momentum, a vibrant civil society will be essential. It is therefore critical that, despite the challenges they are facing, NGOs move beyond mere survival and focus on making themselves more accessible, relevant, and accountable to the public, and that their allies at home and abroad support these efforts to build strong constituencies and press ahead for a democratic opening in Ethiopia.

Freedom House: In response to the ongoing protests in Ethiopia’s Oromia regional state and authorities’s violent response, killing and injuring several peaceful protesters. December 11, 2015

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???????????Freedom HouseEthiopia's scores on freedomStop killing Oromo StudentsOromo students Protests, Western Oromia, Mandii, Najjoo, Jaarsoo,....

Ethiopia: Police Open Fire on Protesters

Freedom House, Washington, December 11, 2015

In response to the ongoing protests in Ethiopia’s Oromia regional state and authorities’s violent response, killing and injuring several peaceful protesters, Freedom House issued the following statement:

The authorities trying to forcibly stop protests in Oromia should remember that peaceful  assembly is guaranteed by Ethiopia’s  constitution,” said Jenai Cox, senior Africa program manager. Firing live bullets to disburse peaceful protesters violates this right. The government of Ethiopia should conduct an inquiry into these police killings and bring those responsible to justice.”

Background:

Oromia is the largest regional state in Ethiopia. Students  and other residents across the region have staged peaceful rallies to object  to a government-proposed master plan that apparently calls for the expansion of Addis Ababa into the Oromia regional state, potentially evicting farmers. Activists report that 14 protesters have been killed by police and several others were injured.

Ethiopia is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2015, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2015, and Not Free inFreedom on the Net 2015

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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Freedom House Country Report: Ethiopia’s Freedom on the Net 2015 Status: Not Free October 28, 2015

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???????????Ethiopia's net freedom in 2015 status, not free
Ethiopia: Freedom on the Net 2015 (Not Free)
STATUS:
NOT FREE
TOTAL SCORE:  82
(0 = Best, 100 = Worst)
OBSTACLES TO ACCESS:  23
(0 = Best, 25 = Worst)
LIMITS ON CONTENT:  28
(0 = Best, 35 = Worst)
VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS:  31
(0 = Best, 40 = Worst)

82
Freedom on the Net Score
(0=BEST, 100=WORST)
↑ = Score improvement
↓ = Score decline

Quick Facts

Population:
Internet Penetration: 2.9 percent
Social Media/ICT Apps Blocked: Yes
Political/Social Content Blocked: Yes
Bloggers/ICT Users Arrested: Yes
Press Freedom Status: Not Free
Key Developments:

JUNE 2014—MAY 2015

  • A significant number of service interruptions in the name of routine maintenance and system updates resulted in worsening service across the country. Internet services on 3G mobile internet networks were reportedly unavailable for more than a month in July and August 2014 (see Restrictions on Connectivity).
  • A growing number of critical news and opposition websites were blocked in the lead up to the May 2015 elections (see Blocking and Filtering).
  • Six bloggers of the prominent Zone 9 blogging collective arrested in April 2014 were officially charged with terrorism in July 2014; two of the bloggers were unexpectedly released and acquitted in July 2015, joined by the four others in October (seeProsecutions and Arrests).
  • A university political science teacher known for his Facebook activism and another blogger were arrested and charged with terrorism in July 2014, among three others (see Prosecutions and Arrests).
  • Online journalists in the Ethiopian diaspora were attacked with Hacking Team’s sophisticated surveillance malware (seeTechnical Attacks).
Introduction:

Ethiopia, the second most populated country in sub-Saharan Africa, has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile phone connectivity in the world. Telecommunication services, in general, and the internet, in particular, are among the most unaffordable commodities for the majority of Ethiopians, as poor telecom infrastructure, the government’s monopoly over the information and communication technologies (ICTs) sector, and obstructive telecom policies have significantly hindered the growth of ICTs in the country, making the cost of access prohibitively expensive.

Despite the country’s extremely poor telecommunications services and a largely disconnected population, Ethiopia is also known as one of the first African countries to censor the internet, beginning in 2006 with opposition blogs.[1] Since then, internet censorship has become pervasive and systematic through the use of highly sophisticated tools that block and filter internet content and monitor user activity. The majority of blocked websites feature critical news and opposition viewpoints run by individuals and organizations based in the diaspora. In the lead up to the May 2015 general elections, a growing number of critical news and opposition websites were blocked, while select tools, such as Storify and a popular URL shortening tool Bitly, remained blocked throughout the year. The government also employs commentators and trolls to proactively manipulate the online news and information landscape, and surveillance of mobile phone and internet networks is systematic and widespread.

In 2014–15, the Ethiopian authorities increased their crackdown on bloggers and online journalists, using the country’s harsh laws to prosecute individuals for their online activities and quash critical voices. The Zone 9 bloggers arrested in April 2014 were charged with terrorism in July 2014 and subsequently subjected to a series of sham trials through mid-2015. In July 2015, two of the imprisoned Zone 9 bloggers were unexpectedly released and acquitted of all charges, which observers attributed to U.S. President Barack Obama’s official visit to the country later that month. The four remaining Zone 9 bloggers were acquitted in October. Nevertheless, five other critical voices and bloggers who were arrested in July 2014 and charged with terrorism remain in prison. During the numerous Zone 9 trials throughout 2014–2015, several supporters were temporarily arrested for posting updates and pictures of their trials on social media via mobile devices.

Obstacles to Access:

A significant number of service interruptions in the name of routine maintenance and system updates resulted in worsening service across the country. Internet services on 3G mobile internet networks were reportedly unavailable for more than a month in July and August 2014.

Availability and Ease of Access

In 2015, access to ICTs in Ethiopia remained extremely limited, hampered by slow speeds and the state’s tight grip on the telecom sector.[2] According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), internet penetration stood at a mere 3 percent in 2014, up from just 2 percent in 2013.[3] Only 0.5 percent of the population had access to fixed-broadband connections, increasing from 0.25 percent in 2013.[4] Ethiopians had more access to mobile phone services, with mobile phone penetration rates increasing from 27 percent in 2013 to 32 percent in 2014,[5] though such access rates still lag behind an estimated regional average of 74 percent,[6] and cell phone ownership is much more common in urban areas than rural areas. Meanwhile, less than 5 percent of the population has a mobile-broadband subscription as of the latest available data from 2013.[7] In March 2015, Ethiopia’s single telecoms provider, the state-owned EthioTelecom, announced it had launched 4GLTE mobile technology in the capital Addis Ababa,[8] but the service is reportedly only available to a mere 400,000 subscribers.[9]  Radio remains the principal mass medium through which most Ethiopians stay informed.

While access to the internet via mobile phones increased slightly in the past year, prohibitively expensive mobile data packages still posed a significant financial obstacle for the majority of the population in Ethiopia, where per capita income stood at US$470 as of the latest available data from 2013.[10] Ethiopia’s telecom market is highly undeveloped due to monopolistic control, providing customers with few options at arbitrary prices, which are set by the state-controlled EthioTelecom and kept artificially high.[11] As of mid-2015, monthly packages cost between ETB 200 and 3,000 (US$10 to $150) for 1 to 30 GB of 3G mobile services.

The combined cost of purchasing a computer, setting up an internet connection, and paying usage charges makes internet access beyond the reach of most Ethiopians. Consequently, only 2 percent of Ethiopian households have fixed-line internet access in their homes.[12] While access via mobile internet is increasing, the majority of internet users still rely on cybercafes to log online. A typical internet user in Addis Ababa pays between ETB 5 and 7 (US$0.25 to $0.35) for an hour of access. Because of the scarcity of internet cafes outside urban areas, however, rates in rural cybercafes are more expensive.

For the few Ethiopians who can access the internet, connection speeds are known to be painstakingly slow and have not improved in years, despite rapid improvements everywhere else around the world.  Logging into an email account and opening a single message can still take as long as six minutes at a standard cybercafe with broadband in the capital city—the same rate reported over the past few years—while attaching documents or images to an email can take as long as eight minutes or more.[13] According to May 2015 data from Akamai’s “State of the Internet” report, Ethiopia has an average connection speed of 1.8 Mbps (compared to a global average of 3.9 Mbps).[14]

Despite reports of massive investments from Chinese telecom companies in recent years,[15] 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. There are only a few signal stations across the country, resulting in frequent network congestions and disconnections, even on state controlled media.[16] Consequently, many people often use their cell phones as music players or cameras. In a typical small town of Ethiopia, individuals often hike to the top of their nearest hills to access a signal for a mobile phone call. Frequent electricity outages also contribute to poor telecom services.

Restrictions on Connectivity

The Ethiopian government’s complete control over the country’s telecommunications infrastructure via EthioTelecom enables it to restrict access to the internet and mobile phone services. Ethiopia is connected to the international internet via satellite, a fiber-optic cable that passes through Sudan and connects to its international gateway, and the SEACOM cable that connects through Djibouti to an international undersea cable. All connections to the international internet are completely centralized via EthioTelecom, enabling the government to cut off the internet at will. As a result, the internet research company Renesys classified Ethiopia “as being at severe risk of Internet disconnection,” alongside Syria, Uzbekistan, and Yemen in a February 2014 assessment.[17]

There were a significant number of service interruptions throughout the year in the name of routine maintenance of network infrastructure and system updates across the country, resulting in worsening service. Numerous users reported extremely slow internet and text messaging speeds during the coverage period, and internet services on EVDO and CDMA networks were reportedly unavailable for more than a month in July and August 2014.[18]

In a sample test conducted in March 2015 to measure the frequency and pervasiveness of mobile network interruptions, 40 to 60 percent of phone calls dropped in the middle of conversation.[19]Nearly 70 percent of the time, testers needed to make prolonged and repeated attempts for their calls to go through. Text messaging services were also found to be extremely poor and slow. The same sample test found that it took an average of six minutes to send a text message to ten individuals, while replies varied from one to six minutes. Approximately 30 percent of text messages were not delivered to the intended recipient at all. The test further found that 60 percent of mobile phone users frequently ran out of their prepaid mobile data allowances prematurely.

ICT Market

The space for independent initiatives in the ICT sector, entrepreneurial or otherwise, is extremely limited,[20] with state-owned EthioTelecom holding a firm monopoly over internet and mobile phone services as the country’s sole telecommunications service provider. Despite repeated international pressure to liberalize telecommunications in Ethiopia, the government refuses to ease its grip on the sector.[21]

China is a key investor in Ethiopia’s telecommunications industry,[22] with Zhongxing Telecommunication Corporation (ZTE) and Huawei currently serving as contractors to upgrade broadband networks to 4G in Addis Ababa and to expand 3G across the country.[23] The partnership has enabled Ethiopia’s authoritarian leaders to maintain their hold over the telecom sector,[24] though the networks built by the Chinese firms have been criticized for their high cost and poor service.[25] Furthermore, the contracts have led to increasing fears that the Chinese may also be assisting the authorities in developing more robust ICT censorship and surveillance capacities.[26] In December 2014, the Swedish telecom group Ericsson emerged as the latest partner to improve and repair the quality of Ethiopia’s mobile network infrastructure,[27] though China’s ZTE still maintains the lion’s share of the telecom infrastructure investment sector.

Meanwhile, onerous government regulations stymie other aspects of the Ethiopian ICT market. For one, imported ICT items are tariffed at the same heavy rate as luxury items, unlike other imported goods such as construction materials and heavy duty machinery, which are given duty-free import privileges to encourage investments in infrastructure.[28] Ethiopians are required register their laptops and tablets at the airport with the Ethiopian customs authority before they travel out of the country, ostensibly to prevent individuals from illegally importing electronic devices, though observers believe the requirement is an effort to keep tabs on the ICT activities of Ethiopian citizens.[29]

Local software companies in the country have also suffered from heavy-handed government regulations, which do not have fair, open, or transparent ways of evaluating and awarding bids for new software projects.[30] Government companies are given priority for every kind of project, while smaller entrepreneurial software companies are completely overlooked, leaving few opportunities for local technology companies to thrive.

Meanwhile, cybercafes are subject to onerous operating requirements under the 2002 Telecommunications (Amendment) Proclamation,[31] which requires cybercafe owners to obtain an operating license with EthioTelecom via a murky process that can take months. In the past few years, EthioTelecom began enforcing its licensing requirements more strictly in response to the increasing spread of cybercafes, reportedly penalizing Muslim cafe owners more harshly. Violations of the stringent requirements, such as a prohibition on providing Voice-over-IP (VoIP) services, entail criminal liability, though there have been no reported violations to date.[32]

Regulatory Bodies

Since the emergence of the internet in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Telecommunications Agency (ETA) has been the primary regulatory body overseeing the telecommunications sector. In practice, executives in the government have complete control over ICT policy and sector regulation.[33] The Information Network Security Agency (INSA), a government agency established in 2011 and controlled by individuals with strong ties to the ruling regime,[34] also has significant power in regulating the internet under the mandate of protecting the country’s communications infrastructure and preventing cybercrimes in the country.

Limits on Content:

Dozens of critical news and opposition websites and blogs were blocked as the country prepared for the general elections in May 2015. Over 100 websites remained blocked overall. The activities of progovernment commentators noticeably increased during the coverage period.

Blocking and Filtering

The Ethiopian government imposes nationwide, politically motivated internet blocking and filtering that tends to tighten ahead of sensitive political events. The majority of blocked websites are those that feature opposition or critical content run by individuals or organizations based in the country or the diaspora. The government’s approach to internet filtering generally entails hindering access to a list of specific internet protocol (IP) addresses or domain names at the level of the EthioTelecom-controlled international gateway. Deep-packet inspection (DPI) is also employed, which blocks websites based on a keyword in the content of a website or piece of communication (such as email).[35]

During the coverage period, over one hundred websites remained inaccessible in Ethiopia.[36] Blocked sites included Ethiopian news websites, political party websites, blogs, television and online radio websites, and the websites of international digital rights organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Tactical Technology Collective. Select tools such as text messaging apps and services on Google’s Android operating system on smartphones were inaccessible at irregular intervals but for unclear reasons.

Online censorship intensified as the country prepared for the May 2015 general elections, with new blocks on dozens of social media pages, blogs, and diaspora-based opposition websites that were created to report on the general election.[37] A diaspora-operated website called AddisVoice, which published a series of critical articles about the educational qualifications of government officials, was a top target for blocking in 2014-2015.[38] International news outlets were also targeted. In June 2014, the Ethiopian authorities were accused of jamming the satellite operations of the BBC, Deutsche Welle, France 24, and the Voice of America, blocking a few of the stations’ websites as well.[39] Al Arabiya, a Saudi Arabia-based media outlet, and Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English websites were intermittently blocked throughout the coverage period.[40]

Blogs are also a prime target for blocking. In 2007, the government instituted a blanket block on the domain names of two popular blog-hosting websites, Blogspot and Nazret, though the authorities have since become more sophisticated in their censorship techniques, now blocking select pages such as the Zone9 independent blog hosted on Blogspot,[41] as opposed to the entire blogging platform. Nazret, however, remained completely blocked as of June 2015.

Facebook and Twitter platforms were otherwise generally accessible, although some individual Facebook groups belonging to opposition individuals remained blocked altogether when accessed via the unencrypted (HTTP) URL pathway. However, the social media curation tool Storify—first blocked in July 2012[42]—remained blocked during the coverage period,[43] in addition to the URL shortening tool Bit.ly.[44] Circumvention tools are also blocked, including Tor—an online tool that enables users to browse anonymously—which has been blocked since May 2012.[45]According to an independent source, key terms such as “proxy” yield no search results on unencrypted search engines,[46] reflecting the government’s efforts to limit users’ access to circumvention tools and strategies.

Some restrictions are also placed on mobile phones, such as the requirement for a text message to obtain prior approval from EthioTelecom if it is to be sent to more than ten recipients.[47] A bulk text message sent without prior approval is automatically blocked, irrespective of the content of the message.

There are no procedures for determining which websites are blocked or why, precluding any avenues for appeal. There are no published lists of blocked websites or publicly available criteria for how such decisions are made, and users are met with an error message when trying to access blocked content. This lack of transparency is exacerbated by the government’s continued denial of its censorship efforts. Meanwhile, the decision-making process does not appear to be controlled by a single entity, as various government bodies—including the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), EthioTelecom, and the ICT ministry—seem to be implementing their own lists, contributing to a phenomenon of inconsistent blocking. Government officials flatly deny the blocking of websites or jamming of international satellite operations while also stating that the government has a legal and a moral responsibility to protect the Ethiopian public from extremist content.

Content Removal

In addition to increasing blocks of online content, politically objectionable content is often targeted for removal, often by way of threats from security officials who personally seek out users and bloggers to instruct them to take down certain content, particularly critical content on Facebook. The growing practice suggests that at least some voices within Ethiopia’s small online community are being closely monitored. For instance, during the various legal proceedings of the Zone 9 bloggers throughout 2014-2015 (see “Prosecutions”), friends and reporters who posted pictures and stories of the trials on social media were briefly detained and asked to remove them.[48]

Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation

Lack of adequate funding is a significant challenge for independent online media in Ethiopia, as fear of government pressure dissuades local businesses from advertising with politically critical websites. A 2012 Advertising Proclamation also prohibits advertisements from firms “whose capital is shared by foreign nationals.”[49] Launching a website on the local .et domain is expensive and onerous,[50] requiring a business license from the Ministry of Trade and Industry and a permit from an authorized body.[51]  While the domestic Ethiopian blogosphere has been expanding, most blogs are hosted on international platforms by diaspora community members.

Despite extremely low levels of internet access, the authorities employ progovernment commentators and trolls to manipulate the online news and information landscape. There was a noticeable increase in the number of progovernment commentators in the last few years, as confirmed in a June 2014 report by the Ethiopian Satellite Television Service (ESAT) that detailed the government’s efforts to recruit and train progovernment citizens to attack politically objectionable content online. According to the ESAT report, hundreds of bloggers reporting directly to government officials had been trained on how to post progovernment comments and criticize antigovernment articles on social media platforms.[52]

Meanwhile, increasing repression against journalists and bloggers has had a major chilling effect on expression online, particularly following the arrest of the Zone 9 bloggers in April 2014 and their ongoing trials throughout 2014-2015 (see “Prosecutions”). Fear of pervasive surveillance has also led to widespread self-censorship, and many bloggers publish anonymously to avoid reprisals.[53] Local newspapers and web outlets receive their independent news and information from regime critics and opposition organizations in the diaspora, and few Ethiopian journalists work for either domestic print media or overseas online outlets due to the threat of repercussions.

Digital Activism

Despite very low internet penetration in the country, tech-savvy Ethiopians are increasingly using social media for campaigning and social activism. Digital activism was particularly pronounced and widespread following the arrest of six Zone 9 bloggers and three journalists for their alleged affiliation with the Zone 9 collective (see “Violations of User Rights”). Ethiopian bloggers and social media users flocked online to spread the #FreeZone9Bloggers hashtag in a campaign that quickly swept across the social media sphere and garnered widespread support from around the world throughout 2014-2015. In the first five days of the campaign, the #FreeZone9Bloggers hashtag was tweeted more than 8,000 times.[54]While the international campaign elicited no official response from the government, sustained digital activism throughout the year continually informed the international community of the Zone 9 case, pushing high level diplomats to condemn the Ethiopian government’s actions, which many believe helped lead to the release of two of the bloggers in July 2015.

Following the prominence of the Zone 9 blogger campaign, hashtag campaigns on social media have become one of the most popular methods of activism in Ethiopia, enabling citizens to demand for social change and justice on a variety of issues. Two hashtag campaigns in late 2014 were particularly active on Ethiopian social media. One campaign, #BecauseIamOromo, stemmed from the release of an Amnesty International report on repression and human rights violations in the Oromo region of Ethiopia,[55]  building momentum across a three-day Twitter campaign, which attracted a significant number of followers.[56] Another campaign, #Justice4Hanna, demanded justice for a 16 year old high school girl who was gang-raped and then later died from associated injuries in Addis Ababa in October 2014.[57]

Digital activism was also prominent in the lead-up to the May 2015 general elections, though calls for protest came mostly from the Ethiopian diaspora rather than from local activists who feared the government’s violent crackdowns against protest movements. State media stepped up its campaign against the press, in general, and the use of social media, in particular, claiming that foreign agents and terrorists were using social media to destabilize the country.

Violations of User Rights:

The limited space for online expression continued to deteriorate alongside an increasing crackdown on bloggers. The Zone 9 bloggers arrested in April 2014 were charged with terrorism in July 2014 and subsequently subjected to a series of sham trials through mid-2015. In July 2015, two of the imprisoned Zone 9 bloggers were unexpectedly released and acquitted of all charges, leaving four in prison alongside five other individuals who were arrested in July 2014 and charged with terrorism for their various ICT activities. Independent journalists in the diaspora were targeted with Hacking Team surveillance spyware.

Legal Environment

The 1995 Ethiopian constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and access to information, while also prohibiting censorship.[58] These constitutional guarantees are affirmed in the 2008 Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation, known as the press law, which governs the print media.[59] Nevertheless, the press law also includes problematic provisions that contradict constitutional protections and restrict free expression, such as onerous registration processes for media outlets and high fines for defamation.[60] The Criminal Code also penalizes defamation with a fine or up to one year in prison.[61]

In 2012, the government introduced specific restrictions on an array of ICT activities under amendments to the 1996 Telecom Fraud Offences Law,[62] which had already placed bans on certain communication applications, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)[63] like Skype and Google Voice, call back services, and internet-based fax services.[64] Under the 2012 amendments, the penalties under the preexisting ban were toughened, increasing the fine and maximum prison sentence from five to eight years for service providers, and penalizing users with three months to two years in prison.[65] The law also added the requirement for all individuals to register their telecommunications equipment—including smartphones—with the government, which security officials typically enforce by confiscating ICT equipment when a registration permit cannot be furnished at security checkpoints, according to sources in the country.

Most alarmingly, the 2012 Telecom Fraud Offences Law extended the violations and penalties defined in the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and criminal code to electronic communications, which explicitly include both mobile phone and internet services.[66] The anti-terrorism legislation prescribes prison sentences of up to 20 years for the publication of statements that can be understood as a direct or indirect encouragement of terrorism, a vaguely defined term.[67]

According to a December 2014 news report by Ethiopian State Television, a draft Computer and Internet Crime Bill is currently in the works by the Information Network Security Agency (INSA). The news report featured remarks by the INSA director, who insisted that the draft cybercrime law aimed to strengthen the government’s powers to prevent, control, investigate, and prosecute cybercrimes, including on social media. Observers are concerned that the law will empower state agencies to monitor private social media activities without oversight.[68]

Prosecutions and Detention for Online Activities

Ethiopia is among the world’s top five jailers of journalists.[69] In 2014-2015, the authorities intensified their crackdown against bloggers and online journalists, using the country’s harsh laws to arrest and prosecute individuals for their online activities and silence dissent. Most alarmingly, six bloggers from the critical Zone 9 blogging collective and three journalists with alleged associations to Zone 9 were arrested in late April 2014. The arrests occurred just days following a Facebook post announcing the group’s plans to resume its activism after taking a seven-month hiatus due to “a considerable amount of surveillance and harassment” the bloggers had previously suffered at the hands of security agents for their writings and social media activism.[70]

Initially held for three months without charges, the bloggers were charged in July 2014 with terrorism under the harsh Anti-Terrorism Proclamation for conspiring with the banned opposition group Ginbot 7, which the government classifies as a terrorist group.[71] The bloggers were further accused of encrypting their communications to disseminate seditious writings with the intent of overthrowing the government, the latter of which is an offense under the criminal code.[72] The government reportedly submitted 30 pages of phone and surveillance records spanning a period of three years as evidence of the terrorism charges,[73] alongside email communications and digital security handbooks.[74]

Despite widespread international condemnation of the Zone 9 arrests, the detainees were denied bail and brought to court dozens of times without any progress to their case for more than a year.[75]They remained in jail throughout the first half of 2015 until early July, when two of the bloggers and three associated journalists were unexpectedly released without charges. The four remaining Zone 9 bloggers were acquitted in October.[76] During the trials between June and November 2014, at least three other individuals were arrested temporarily for posting updates and pictures of their trials on social media via mobile devices.

Several other critical bloggers and online activists were arrested in July 2014, including Abraha Desta and Zelalem Workagegnehu, both academics and bloggers who were held without charges for four months until October 2014 when they were charged for their alleged support of the opposition group Ginbot 7.[77] They were also charged with using social media to contact members of Ginbot 7.[78] Widely known for his Facebook posts criticizing the ruling party, Abraha Desta was reportedly beaten brutally before being taken to an unidentified prison.[79] Three other individuals—Yonatan Wolde, Abraham Solomon, and Bahiru Degu—were also arrested around the same time for allegedly applying for an internet security and social media training abroad.[80] At a court hearing in August 2015, the defendants’ cases were delayed until November.[81]

Meanwhile, the well-known dissident journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega is still carrying out an 18-year prison sentence handed down in July 2012 under the anti-terrorism law.[82]

Surveillance and Anonymity

Government surveillance of online and mobile phone communications is pervasive in Ethiopia, and evidence has emerged in recent years that reveal the scale of such practices. According to 2014 Human Rights Watch research, there are strong indications that the government has deployed a centralized monitoring system from the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE, known as ZXMT, to monitor phone lines and various types of communications, including mobile phone networks and the internet.[83] Known for its use by repressive regimes in Libya and Iran, ZXMT enables deep packet inspection (DPI) of internet traffic across the EthioTelecom network and has the ability to intercept emails and web chats.

Another ZTE technology, known as ZSmart, is a customer management database installed at EthioTelecom that provides the government with full access to user information and the ability to intercept SMS text messages and record phone conversations.[84]ZSmart also allows security officials to locate targeted individuals through real-time geolocation tracking of mobile phones.[85] While the extent to which the government has made use of the full range of ZTE’s sophisticated surveillance systems is unclear, the authorities frequently present intercepted emails and phone calls as evidence during trials against journalists and bloggers or during interrogations as a scare tactic.[86]

There has been an increasing trend of exiled dissidents targeted with surveillance malware in the past few years (see “Technical Attacks”). Recent Citizen Lab research published in March 2015 uncovered the use of Remote Control System (RCS) spyware against two employees of the diaspora-run independent satellite television, radio, and online news media outlet, Ethiopian Satellite Television Service (ESAT), based in Alexandria, Virginia, in November and December 2014.[87] Made by the Italian company Hacking Team, RCS spyware is advertised as “offensive technology” sold exclusively to law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world, and has the ability to steal files and passwords, as well as to intercept Skype calls and chats. [88]

While Hacking Team claims that they do not deal with “repressive regimes,”[89] the social engineering tactics used to bait the two ESAT employees made it clear that the attack was targeted. Moreover, analysis of the RCS attacks uncovered credible links to the Ethiopian government, with the spyware’s servers registered at an EthioTelecom address under the name “INSA-PC,” referring to the Information Network Security Agency (INSA), the body established in 2011 to preside over the security of the country’s critical communications infrastructure.[90] INSA was already known to be using the commercial toolkit FinFisher—a device that can secretly monitor computers by turning on webcams, record everything a user types with a key logger, and intercept Skype calls—to target dissidents and supposed national security threats.[91]

Given the high degree of online repression in Ethiopia, political commentators use proxy servers and anonymizing tools to hide their identities when publishing online and to circumvent filtering, though the ability to communicate anonymously has become more difficult. The Tor Network anonymizing tool has been blocked since May 2012.

Anonymity is further compromised by strict SIM card registration requirements. Upon purchase of a SIM card through EthioTelecom or an authorized reseller, individuals must provide their full name, address, government-issued identification number, and a passport-sized photograph. EthioTelecom’s database of SIM registrants enables the government to cut-off the SIM cards belonging to targeted individuals and to restrict those individuals from registering for new SIM cards. Internet subscribers are also required to register their personal details, including their home address, with the government. In 2013, an inside informant leaked worrying details of potential draft legislation that seeks to mandate real-name registration for all internet users in Ethiopia, though there are no further details of this development as of mid-2015.[92]

While the government’s stronghold over the Ethiopian ICT sector enables it to proactively monitor users, its access to user activity and information is less direct at cybercafes. For a period following the 2005 elections, cybercafe owners were required to keep a register of their clients, but the requirement has not been enforced since mid-2010.[93] Nevertheless, some cybercafe operators revealed that they are required to report any “unusual behavior” to security officials, and officials often visit cybercafes (sometimes in plainclothes) to ask questions about specific users or to monitor user activity themselves.[94]

Intimidation and Violence

Government security agents frequently harass and intimidate bloggers, online journalists, and ordinary users for their online activities. Independent bloggers are often summoned by the authorities to be warned against discussing certain topics online, while activists claim that they are consistently threatened by state security agents for their online activism.[95] Prior to their imprisonment in April 2014, the Zone 9 bloggers reported suffering a considerable amount of harassment for their work, leading them to go silent for several months. Shortly after the bloggers announced a resumption of activities on Facebook in April 2014, six Zone 9 bloggers were arrested and sent to a federal detention center in Addis Ababa where they were reportedly mistreated and tortured to give false confessions throughout the year.[96] The active Gmail accounts belonging to several of the Zone 9 bloggers while in detention suggests that they may have been forced give their passwords to security officials against their will.[97]

Ethiopian journalists in the diaspora have also been targeted for harassment, according to one reporter of the diaspora-based website ECADF, who received death threats from an alleged government spy in Netherlands for his reporting.[98]

Technical Attacks

Opposition critics and independent voices face frequent technical attacks, even when based abroad. In recent years, independent research has found evidence that the Ethiopian authorities use sophisticated surveillance malware and spyware, such as FinFisher’s FinSpy and Hacking Team’s Remote Control Servers (RCS), to target exiled dissidents. The most recent attack was recorded in December 2014 by researchers at Citizen Lab, who discovered RCS spyware in attached documents sent in emails to journalists with the Ethiopian Satellite Television Service (ESAT), an independent TV, radio, and online news outlet run by members of the Ethiopian diaspora in Virginia.[99] Having been targeted with the RCS spyware before,[100]the journalists did not download the attachments that would have installed the spyware and enabled the attackers to access files on the infected computers. The journalists believe the attack was an effort by the authorities to ascertain ESAT’s sources within Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, a technical attack in late 2012 and early 2013 on an exiled dissident (and American citizen) is currently the basis of an ongoing legal case at a U.S. District Court filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).[101] In April 2013, EFF sued the Ethiopian government in a U.S. court on behalf of the anonymous Ethiopian dissident for implanting malicious FinSpy malware on the individual’s computer. Linked to a server belonging to EthioTelecom, FinSpy had secretly recorded dozens of Skype calls, copied emails the individual had sent, and logged a web search conducted by his son on the history of sports medicine for a school research project.[102]

Notes:

[1] Rebecca Wanjiku, “Study: Ethiopia only sub-Saharan Africa nation to filter net,” IDG News Service,  October 8, 2009, http://bit.ly/1Lbi3s9.

[2] Tom Jackson, “Telecoms slow down development of Ethiopian tech scene – iceaddis,”humanipo republished on Ethioconstruction,  October 22, 2013, http://bit.ly/1ZlzWhw.

[3] International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet, 2000-2014,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY.

[4] International Telecommunication Union, “Fixed (Wired)-Broadband Subscriptions, 2000-2014,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY.

[5] International Telecommunication Union, “Mobile-Cellular Telephone Subscriptions, 2000-2014,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY.

[6] International Telecommunication Union, “Key ICT data, 2000-2015,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY.

[7] International Telecommunication Union, “Ethiopia Profile (Latest data available: 2013),”ICT-Eye, accessed August 1, 2014, http://bit.ly/1NEnLHk.

[8] Aaron Maasho, “Ethiopia launches 4G mobile service in the capital,” ed. Mark Potter,Reuters, March 21, 2015, http://reut.rs/1FP0Pky.

[9] “A short report about Ethio-Telecom recent launch of 4G network in Addis Ababa,” EthioTube video, 8:44, April 3, 2015, http://bit.ly/1Ryeb90.

[10] World Bank, “Ethiopia Overview,” last updated April 05, 2015,http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/ethiopia/overview.

[11] Ethiopia – Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts, Paul Budde Communication Pty Ltd.:June 2014, http://bit.ly/1ji15Rn.

[12] International Telecommunication Union, “Ethiopia Profile (Latest data available: 2013).”

[13] According to tests by Freedom House consultant in 2015.

[14] Akamai, “Average Connection Speed: Ethiopia,” map visualization, The State of the Internet, Q4 (2014), http://akamai.me/1OqvpoS.

[15] Aaron Maasho, “Ethiopia signs $700 mln mobile network deal with China’s Huawei,”Reuters, July 25, 2013, http://reut.rs/1OpDgVj.

[16] Endalk Chala, “When blogging is held hostage of Ethiopia’s telecom policy,” in “GV Advocacy Awards Essays on Internet Censorship from Iran, Venezuela, Ethiopia,” Global Voices, February 3, 2015, http://bit.ly/1OpDvzz.

[17] Jim Cowie, “Syria, Venezuela, Ukraine: Internet Under Fire,” Renesys (blog), February 26, 2014, http://bit.ly/1R2z0IT.

[18] Freedom House interviews.

[19] Conducted by Freedom House consultant, March 2015.

[20] Al Shiferaw, “Connecting Telecentres: An Ethiopian Perspective,” Telecentre Magazine, September 2008, http://bit.ly/1ji348h.

[21] “Ethio Telecom to remain monopoly for now,” TeleGeography, June 28, 2013,http://bit.ly/1huyjf7.

[22] Paul Chapman, “New report explores the Ethiopian – telecoms, mobile and broadband – market insights, statistics and forecasts,” WhatTech, May 1, 2015, http://bit.ly/1L46Awu.

[23] “Out of reach,” The Economist, August 24, 2013, http://econ.st/1l1UvJO.

[24] “Out of reach,” The Economist.

[25] Matthew Dalton, “Telecom Deal by China’s ZTE, Huawei in Ethiopia Faces Criticism,”The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2014, http://on.wsj.com/1LtSCkD.

[26] Based on allegations that the Chinese authorities have provided the Ethiopian government with technology that can be used for political repression—such as surveillance cameras and satellite jamming equipment—in the past. See: Addis Neger, “Ethiopia: China Involved in ESAT Jamming,” ECADAF Ethiopian news & Opinion, June 23, 2010, http://bit.ly/1LtSYI9; Gary Sands, “Ethiopia’s Broadband Network – A Chinese Trojan Horse?” Foreign Policy Blogs, Foreign Policy Association,  September 6, 2013, http://bit.ly/1FWG8X1.

[27] ENA, “Ericsson to take part in telecom expansion in Ethiopia,” Dire Tube, December 18, 2014,  http://bit.ly/1PkZfvA.

[28] The Embassy of the United Stated, “Doing Business in Ethiopia,” http://1.usa.gov/1LtTExh.

[29]  World Intellectual Property Organization, “Ethiopia Custom Regulation: No 622/2009,”http://bit.ly/1NveoeB.

[30] Mignote Kassa, “Why Ethiopia’s Software Industry Falters,” Addis Fortune 14, no. 700 (September 29, 2013), http://bit.ly/1VJiIWC.

[31] “Proclamation No. 281/2002, Telecommunications (Amendment Proclamation,” Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 28, July 2, 2002, http://bit.ly/1snLgsc.

[32] Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency, “License Directive for Resale and Telecenter in Telecommunication Services No. 1/2002,” November 8, 2002, accessed October 20, 2014,http://bit.ly/1pUtpWh.

[33] Dr. Lishan Adam, “Understanding what is happening in ICT in Ethiopia,” (policy paper, Research ICT Africa, 2012) http://bit.ly/1LDPyJ5.

[34]  Halefom Abraha, “THE STATE OF CYBERCRIME GOVERNANCE IN ETHIOPIA,” (paper) http://bit.ly/1huzP0S.

[35] Daniel Berhane, “Ethiopia’s web filtering: advanced technology, hypocritical criticisms, bleeding constitution,” Horns Affairs, January 16, 2011, http://bit.ly/1jTyrH1 .

[36] Test conducted by an anonymous researcher contracted by Freedom House, March 2015. During the test, some websites opened at the first attempt but were inaccessible when refreshed.

[37] Interview with the producer of a website called  Mircha.org,http://mircha.org/category/english/ .

[38] Abebe Gelaw, “Exposed: Prof. Constantinos Berhe has two fake degrees,” Addis Voice, January 18, 2015,  http://bit.ly/1zrOETe.

[39] “BBC condemns Ethiopian broadcast jamming,” BBC, May 30, 2014, http://bbc.in/1oCH8VO.

[40] “Ethiopia ‘blocks’ Al Jazeera aebsites,” Al Jazeera, March 18, 2013, http://aje.me/1144wNh.

[41] Zone9, blog post, October 8, 2015, http://zone9ethio.blogspot.com/.

[42] Mohammed Ademo, Twitter post, July 25, 2012, 1:08 p.m.,https://twitter.com/OPride/status/228159700489879552.

[44] Ory Okolloh Mwangi, Twitter post, November 6, 2013, 9:20 a.m.,https://twitter.com/kenyanpundit/status/398077421926514688.

[45] “Ethiopia Introduces Deep Packet Inspection,” Tor (blog), May 31, 2012,http://bit.ly/1A0YRdc; Warwick Ashford, “Ethiopian government blocks Tor network online anonymity,” Computer Weekly, June 28, 2012, http://bit.ly/1LDQ5L2.

[46] A 2014 report from Human Rights Watch also noted that the term “aljazeera” was unsearchable on Google while the news site was blocked from August 2012 to mid-March 2013. According to HRW research, the keywords “OLF” and “ONLF” (acronyms of Ethiopian opposition groups) are not searchable on the unencrypted version of Google (http://) and other popular search engines. Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” March 25, 2014, 56, 58,http://bit.ly/1Nviu6r.

[47] Interview with individuals working in the telecom sector, as well as a test conducted by a Freedom House consultant who found it was not possible for an ordinary user to send out a bulk text message.

[48] Reporters prevented from reporting on the trial of Zone9 Bloggers: Trial Tracker Blog,http://trialtrackerblog.org/home/ .

[49] Exemptions are made for foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin. See, Abrham Yohannes, “Advertisement Proclamation No. 759/2012,” Ethiopian Legal Brief (blog), September 27, 2012, http://bit.ly/1LDQf5c.

[50] “Proclamation No. 686/2010 Commercial Registration and Business Licensing,” Federal Negarit Gazeta,  July 24, 2010, http://bit.ly/1P3PoLy;  World Bank Group, Doing Business 2015: Going Beyond Efficiency, Economy Profile 2015, Ethiopia, 2014, http://bit.ly/1L49tO6.

[51] Chala, “When blogging is held hostage of Ethiopia’s telecom policy.”

[52] “Ethiopia Trains Bloggers to attack its opposition,” ECADF Ethiopian News & Opinions, June 7, 2014, http://bit.ly/1QemZjl.

[53] Markos Lemma, “Disconnected Ethiopian Netizens,” Digital Development Debates(blog),November 2012,  http://bit.ly/1Ml9Nu3.

[54] “#BBCtrending: Jailed bloggers spark Ethiopia trend,” BBC Trending, April 30, 2014,http://bbc.in/1kpaTDX.

[55] Mahlét Solomon, “Because I am Oromo,” Facebook page for campaign, November 15, 2014,   http://on.fb.me/1VJOKag.

[56] Amnesty International, Ethiopia: Because I am Oromo’: Sweeping repression in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, October 28, 2014, http://bit.ly/1QenAS6.

[57] Melody Sundberg, “A 16-Year-Old’s Death Is Forcing Ethiopia to Confront Its Sexual Violence Problem,” Global Voices, January 16, 2015, http://bit.ly/1OqziKr.

[58] Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1995), art. 26 and 29, accessed, August 24, 2010, http://www.ethiopar.net/constitution.

[59] Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation No. 590/2008,Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 64, December 4, 2008.

[60] Article 19, The Legal Framework for Freedom of Expression in Ethiopia, accessed September 10, 2014,  http://bit.ly/1Pl0f33.

[61] Criminal Code, art. 613, http://bit.ly/1OpHE6F.

[62] “A Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offence,” Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 61, September 4, 2012, http://www.abyssinialaw.com/uploads/761.pdf.

[63] The government first instituted the ban on VoIP in 2002 after it gained popularity as a less expensive means of communication and began draining revenue from the traditional telephone business belonging to the state-owned Ethio Telecom. In response to widespread criticisms, the government claimed that VoIP applications such as Skype would not be considered under the new law, though the proclamation’s language still enables the authorities to interpret it broadly at whim.

[64]“Telecommunication Proclamation No. 281/2002, Article 2(11) and 2(12),” Federal Negarit Gazeta  No. 28, July 2, 2002, accessed July 25, 2014, http://bit.ly/1jTCWkV. As an amendment to article 24 of the Proclamation, the Sub-Article (3) specifically states, “The use or provision of voice communication or fax services through the internet are prohibited” (page 1782).

[65] A Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offence.

[66] Article 19, “Ethiopia: Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offences,”legal analysis, August 6, 2012, http://bit.ly/1Lbonjm.

[67] “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009,” Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 57, August 28, 2009.

[68]  “EBS Special- The social media boom in Ethiopia,” Diretube video, 31:01, February 2015,  http://bit.ly/1Mlc0FD.

[69] Committee to Protect Journalists,“2014 prison census: 221 journalists jailed worldwide,” December 1, 2014, https://cpj.org/imprisoned/2014.php.

[70] “Six members of Zone Nine, group of bloggers and activists are arrested,” [in Amharic]Zone9 (blog), April 25, 2014, http://bit.ly/1VJn6ow.

[71]“Federal High Court Lideta Criminal Bench court, Addis Ababa,” http://1drv.ms/1OqAjlC.

[72] Endalk Chala, “What You Need to Know About Ethiopia v. Zone9 Bloggers: Verdict Expected July 20,” Global Voices Advocacy, July 17, 2015, http://bit.ly/1jTDO9b.

[73] Jared Goyette, “For this group of Ethiopian journalists, the Hacking Team revelations are personal,” Public Radio International,  July 8, 2015, http://bit.ly/1UN64ID.

[74] “Federal High Court Lideta Criminal Bench court, Addis Ababa.”

[75] Ellery Roberts Biddle, Endalk Chala, Guardian Africa network, “One year on, jailed Ethiopian bloggers are still awaiting trial,” The Guardian, April 24, 2015, http://gu.com/p/47ktv/stw; “Nine Journalists and Bloggers Still Held Arbitrarily,” Reporters Without Borders, “Nine Journalists and Bloggers Still Held Arbitrarily,” August 21, 2014, http://bit.ly/1P3TW4I.

[76] Committee to Protect Journalists, “In Ethiopia, Zone 9 bloggers acquitted of terrorism charges,” news statement, October 16, 2015, https://www.cpj.org/2015/10/in-ethiopia-zone-9-bloggers-acquitted-of-terrorism.php.

[77] “Defendants in Zelalem Workagegnehu et al Case Reappointed to December 25th,” De Birhan (blog), December 18, 2014, http://bit.ly/1Pl0Ph6.

[78] “Ethiopia Charges 10 of Links with Ginbot 7 Movement Today,”  De Birhan (blog), October 31, 2014, http://bit.ly/1ZlQJRB.

[79] “Ethiopia arrests for young, prominent opposition figures,” Ethiomedia, July 8, 2014,http://bit.ly/1MldQGC.

[80] Tedla D. Tekle, “The Journalism and Scholarship of Attachment – Ethiopia, Africa,”Transcend Media Service, May 25, 2015, http://bit.ly/1ZlR46L.

[81]“Court Day of Our Co-Blogger Celalem Workagegnehu et al,” De Birhan (blog), March 19, 2015, http://bit.ly/1Pl0Vp9; Addis Standard, Facebook post, August 20, 2015, http://on.fb.me/1JXGSWz.

[82] Such trumped-up charges were based on an online column Nega had published criticizing the government’s use of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to silence political dissent and calling for greater political freedom in Ethiopia. Nega is also the 2011 recipient of the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.“That Bravest and Most Admirable of Writers: PEN Salutes Eskinder Nega,” PEN American Center (blog), April 13, 2012, http://bit.ly/1Lm89Y7; See also, Markos Lemma, “Ethiopia: Online Reactions to Prison Sentence for Dissident Blogger,” Global Voices, July 15, 2012, http://bit.ly/1OpKaKf; Endalk Chala, “Ethiopia: Freedom of Expression in Jeopardy,” Global Voices Advocacy, February 3, 2012, http://bit.ly/1jfIEO3.

[83] Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” 62.

[84] Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” 67.

[85] Ibid, 52.

[86]  Committee to Protect Journalists, “Ethiopian Blogger, Journalists Convicted of Terrorism,” January 19, 2012, http://cpj.org/x/47b9.

[87] Bill Marczak et al., Hacking Team Reloaded? US-Based Ethiopian Journalists Again Targeted with Spyware, Citizen Lab, March 9, 2015, http://bit.ly/1Ryogmr.

[88] Hacking Team,“Customer Policy,” accessed February 13, 2014, http://hackingteam.it/index.php/customer-policy.

[89]  Declan McCullagh, “Meet the ‘Corporate Enemies of the Internet’ for 2013,” CNET, March 11, 2013, accessed February 13, 2014, http://cnet.co/1fo6jJZ.

[90] Marczak et al., Hacking Team Reloaded? US-Based Ethiopian Journalists Again Targeted with Spyware.

[91] Fahmida Y. Rashid, “FinFisher ‘Lawful Interception’ Spyware Found in Ten Countries, Including the U.S.,” Security Week, August 8, 2012, http://bit.ly/1WRPuap.

[92] Interview conducted by Freedom House consultant.

[93] Groum Abate, “Internet Cafes Start Registering Users,” The Capital republished Nazret(blog), December 27, 2006, http://bit.ly/1Lm98aX.

[94] Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” 67.

[95]   SIMEGNISH (LILY) MENGESHA, “CRAWLING TO DEATH OF EXPRESSION – RESTRICTED ONLINE MEDIA IN ETHIOPIA,” Center for International Media Assistance (blog), April 8, 2015, http://bit.ly/1IbxFie.

[96] Trial Tracker Blog, “Trials.”

[97] Anonymous Freedom House researcher reported seeing several of the detained Zone9 bloggers actively online in Gmail chat.

[98]ክንፉ አሰፋ  በስለላ ከሆላንድ የተባረረው የጋዜጠኛውን አንገት እቆርጣለሁ አለ,”  ECADAF Ethiopian News & Opinion,  April 12, 2015,  http://ecadforum.com/Amharic/archives/14790/ .

[99] Marczak et al., Hacking Team Reloaded? US-Based Ethiopian Journalists Again Targeted with Spyware.

[100] Bill Marczak, et al., Hacking Team and the Targeting of Ethiopian Journalists, Citizen Lab, February 12, 2014, http://bit.ly/1heE0Nm.

[101] Jenifer Fenton, “Ethiopia spying case casts spotlight on cyber surveillance in US,” Al Jazeera, July 13, 2015, http://alj.am/bhaq.

[102] Electronic Frontier Foundation,“Kidane v. Ethiopia,” last updated August 28, 2014,https://www.eff.org/cases/kidane-v-ethiopia.

Ethiopia: President Obama Should Urge Changes to Help Civil Society, Political Opposition July 24, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in US-Africa Summit.
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Freedom House

Ethiopia's scores on freedom

 

 

 

(Freedom House) — As President Obama prepares to visit Ethiopia next week, Freedom House has prepared policy recommendations for the White House, highlighting Ethiopia’s undermining of civil society, independent media, and the political opposition:

“The political environment during parliamentary elections held in May included arrest, harassment and intimidation of opposition members and supporters,” the letter says. “Apart from seriously eroding citizens’ faith in any prospect of an inclusive political framework, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s entrenched control over all levers of political power sends a strong signal that all avenues of legitimate dissent are closed, fomenting resentment that could lead to violent extremism.”

“Freedom House recommends that President Obama urge the Government of Ethiopia to undertake a comprehensive review of the country’s civil society and anti-terrorism laws and to release imprisoned journalists and peaceful political activists.”

Read the policy reccomendations below.

Ethiopia is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2015, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2015, and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2015.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.


Ethiopia: Policy Recommendations, July 2015

Background

In 2009, the Ethiopian Parliament passed the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP), tightly restricting Ethiopian civil society organizations (CSOs). This includes limiting the amount of foreign funding that organizations are allowed to receive to 10 percent. Legislation passed in 2009, the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) has been extensively used to silence critical voices including independent journalists and members of opposition political parties. These laws coupled with other government policies seriously limit the ability for independent voices to be heard.

Political Space and Inclusive Political Process

In May, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) conducted another tightly controlled national election and won all seats in both federal and regional legislatures. The political environment included the widespread arrest, harassment and intimidation of opposition members and supporters. Apart from seriously eroding citizens’ faith in any prospect of an inclusive political framework, EPRDF’s control of all levers of political power sends a strong signal that all avenues of legitimate dissent are closed, fomenting resentment that could lead to violent extremism. The rise in politically motivated killings of opposition activists after announcement of the election results in May and June (seven reported cases) shows that local officials believe that a total win for EPRDF means no space for opposition. Freedom House therefore recommends that during his visit, President Obama:

  • Urge the Ethiopian government to release members and supporters of opposition political parties imprisoned as a result of their peaceful political activities.
  • Encourage the Ethiopian government to undertake a thorough review of electoral laws and institutions to allow for a meaningful engagement of civil society in voters’ education and election observation activities.
  • Call on the Ethiopian authorities to take measures to address the concerns being raised by the country’s Muslim population. A positive first step in this direction could be releasing representatives of the Muslim community that have been in prison since 2012 being tried under the ATP.

Civil Society and Media

The CSP has effectively decimated human rights groups in Ethiopia. While the stated purpose of the CSP is ‘to aid and facilitate the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the development of the country,’ it has actually forced at least 10 prominent human rights and democracy promotion organizations to abandon their mandates in order to continue receiving foreign funding while others were forced to scale back their operations significantly. As a direct result of the CSP, Ethiopia’s leading human rights NGO, Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO, now HRCO), had to close 9 of its 12 regional offices and cut 85 percent of its staff. The Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association (EWLA), another prominent group, cut nearly 70 percent of its staff. Authorities also froze the bank accounts of these groups. In addition to the severe restrictions the CSP imposes on funding and human rights work, the dysfunctional legal framework it put in place is actively undermining the role of civil society in development. A 2014 performance audit conducted by the Federal Auditor General found that more than 85 percent of NGOs were not able to comply with one or more of the expenditure and reporting requirements. The Director of the Charities and Societies Agency, the government agency in charge of regulating NGOs, told parliament that if his agency were to enforce the CSP as written, all NGOs would have closed. During President Obama’s visit to Ethiopia, Freedom House recommends that he:

  • Urge the government of Ethiopia to undertake a comprehensive review of the CSP and the eight implementation guidelines (directives) that limit access to international funding for human rights organizations and their abilities to form networks and consortia.
  • In the short term, seek ways of making U.S. government funding accessible to Ethiopian human rights groups by setting up a special ‘human rights and civil society’ fund that is not subject to the 10 percent foreign funding cap. The European Union successfully negotiated such an arrangement with the Ethiopian government.
  • Welcome the recent release of five journalists and bloggers and call for the release of the remaining 11 journalists and bloggers as well as scores of peaceful opposition activists who are currently in prison.
  • Meet with human rights defenders, civil society activists and recently released journalists and bloggers as a demonstration of U.S government support and solidarity to their cause.

Human Rights and National Security

After Ethiopia’s most competitive elections in 2005 concluded with violence and the detention of hundreds of opposition members and civil society leaders, EPRDF moved to systematize the tools of political control through a series of restrictive legislation backed by intense crackdown on media and civil society intended to silence perceived opponents and critics. As a result, the operational space for legitimate opposition, independent media and human rights activists has been seriously constrained. The ATP is being used to pursue vigorous prosecution of opposition party members and journalists.

The excesses of Ethiopia’s counter-terrorism operations that include arbitrary arrests, widespread practice of torture, alarming trends of disregard to due process rights of detainees and excessive pre-trial detention have stifled legitimate dissent and created a profound climate of fear. Lack of accountability of security forces is exacerbated by a judiciary that is largely subservient to the executive and lacks institutional autonomy to exercise effective oversight and enforcement of constitutionally guaranteed human rights protections. Freedom House therefore recommends that President Obama:

  • Urge the Ethiopian government to review the provisions of the ATP that lay out an overbroad definition of legitimate activities of journalists and political activists as acts of terror.
  • Call on Ethiopian authorities to adhere to national and international standards of due process and fair trial in their treatment of detainees under the ATP; and establish an effective mechanism of accountability for law enforcement officials who commit human rights violations.
  • Offer US technical assistance in reviewing the ATP to bring it up to international standards, and train law enforcement and judicial personnel in international human rights principles and prudent counter-terrorism techniques.
  • Reiterate the need for civil society to be considered a partner rather than an obstacle in counter-terrorism efforts and stress the role civil society can play in addressing the underlying challenges and gaps that drive extremism.

Support for Human Rights and Democracy Promotion

Given the highly repressive political environment in Ethiopia, it is admittedly difficult to support those who risk their lives to promote democracy and human rights. But it is not impossible, and if such groups are to survive in Ethiopia, they need outside support. Even a small increase in democracy and human rights assistance can have an enormous impact in ensuring that local civil society is able defend the fundamental rights of all Ethiopians. Freedom House recommends that the Obama Administration:

  • Increase USAID’s democracy, human rights, and governance (DRG) budget for Ethiopia to support programs that aim to strengthen independent media and investigative journalism in an effort to stem growing trends of official corruption and other human rights abuses. The current obligated amount of $350,000 for DRG represents only 1.68 percent of the Agency’s obligated total funding for Ethiopia. Expand USAID programming to cover much needed capacity building support in digital security and human rights monitoring to civil society and digital activists.

Mr. Obama’s visit to Ethiopia sends the wrong message on democracy, Washington Post. June 25, 2015

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???????????TPLF in electoral fraud, 24 May 2015

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“AFRICA DOESN’T need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” Those were President Obama’s words when he addressed Ghana’s parliament in July 2009, during his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president. The historic speech, watched around the globe, was an optimistic clarion call to the leaders on the continent from the son of a Kenyan. “First, we must support strong and sustainable democratic governments,” Mr. Obama said.

The president seems to have forgotten that speech. Last week, the White House announced that, while traveling to Kenya next month, Mr. Obama also will stop in Ethiopia, the first such visit by a sitting U.S. president to the country of 94 million. It’s almost unfathomable that he would make time for an entrenched human rights abuser such as Ethi­o­pia while cold-shouldering the nation that just witnessed a historic, peaceful, democratic change of power: Nigeria.

Administration officials justify the trip by citing the United States’ long-standing cooperation with Ethi­o­pia on issues of regional security and the country’s accelerating economic growth. Ethi­o­pia is a major recipient of U.S. development assistance, and the African Union has its headquarters there. But it also stands out in Africa for its increasingly harsh repression and its escalating chokehold on independent media and political dissent. Since June 2014, 34 journalists have been forced to flee the country, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Ethi­o­pia is also one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists.

The administration already undermined Ethiopia’s struggling journalists and democracy advocates in April, when Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said Ethi­o­pia has “moved forward in strengthening its democracy. Every time there is an election, it gets better and better.” Shortly after her statement, the ruling party held an election in which it secured 100 percent of the parliamentary seats. That was indeed an improvement upon its 2010 performance, when it won 99.6 percent of seats. In the months ahead of the May 24 polls, opposition party members and leaders were harassed and arrested. The Ethiopian government refused to allow independent election observers, except from the African Union. Since the election, two opposition members and one candidate have been murdered. The government hasdenied any responsibility for the killings.

Meanwhile, Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and the one with the largest economy, overcame risks of electoral violence and Boko Haram’s terrorism to manage a peaceful transfer of power for the first time since the country’s return to democracy in 1999. With numerous African countries facing elections in the next two years, a visit to Nigeria would have signaled U.S. commitment to partnering with governments that respect freedom, the rule of law and the will of their people. Snubbing Nigeria for a trip to Ethi­o­pia sends the opposite message, in essence validat ing Ethiopia’s sham elections and rewarding a regime that has shown no intent to reform. Six years after his idealistic speech in Ghana, Mr. Obama is sending a message to Africa that democracy isn’t all that important after all.

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-wrong-message-on-democracy/2015/06/24/a558f68c-1956-11e5-ab92-c75ae6ab94b5_story.html

Exit Polls In Ethiopia Show Opposition Victory In May 24, 2015 Elections May 26, 2015

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???????????OFC MEDREK’S Election Symbol (Five Fingers with the Open Palm'High Five Goes ViralOFC Medrek’s Last Campaign Stops – Xuquur Incinii (Diree Badhaas) and Holataa in Central Oromia.

Blue Party Wins in Addis Ababa with 61.9%, Medrek Wins in Oromia with 52.1%

(Eritrean Press) – IT IS A LANDSLIDE FOR THE OPPOSITIONS

Allen Connelly, a western representative for the exit poll organizing group said, “The exit poll was carried out by a coalition of university student volunteers from Addis Ababa, Jimma and Adama.”

Independent team of college students randomly surveyed thousands of voters statewide on Sunday. The exit poll reportedly cross-examined thousands voters from Oromia and all 10 districts of Addis Ababa. All voters surveyed were asked for their party selection, their age and their ethnicity.

Mr Connelly said his group organized exit polls in Addis Ababa and Oromia state because of shortage of volunteers in other states. Two volunteers were arrested (then later released) by police in Dire Dawa and Ambo while operating the exit polls, added Mr Connelly.

According to the exit poll final results, the ruling party EPRDF received 26.4 percent of the votes in Oromia while the opposition party Medrek got nearly 52.1% (most of them in central and western Oromia zones.)

The OFC branch of Medrek and OPDO branch of EPRDF were the most popular parties mentioned by Oromia voters during the exit polls.

The EDP, UDJ, AEUO and other small opposition parties collectively received only 21.5% in Oromia, according to the survey.

In Addis Ababa city, the unofficial results show the opposition Blue Party won the election with 61.9% while the EDP, UDJ, Medrek and AEUO got a combined 30.6% and the ruling party EPRDF received only 7.5%. The AEUO and EDP parties were more popular among the older age city voters while the city youth overwhelmingly selected the Blue Party. Many Blue Party voters cited previous UDJ (Andinet Party) affiliation.

Among those Addis Ababa voters who voted for all the opposition (92.5%); nearly 38% identified themselves as Amhara ethnic groups, 21.5% mixed ethnic group, 17% as Oromo, 14.5% as Gurage and the rest were smaller ethnicities.

Some voters complained about the ballot box malfunction and many eyewitnessed opposition party election observers being harassed by the police. The majority voters during the exit poll said they have no confidence that their vote will be counted.

Related:

In Pictures/Videos: Review of the Historic Oromo Nationals’ Rallies for OFC/Medrek in Oromia (April/May 2015)

http://gadaa.net/FinfinneTribune/2015/05/in-picturesvideos-review-of-the-historic-oromo-nationals-rallies-for-ofcmedrek-in-oromia-aprilmay-2015/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+gadaa%2FBiJG+%28Gadaa.com%29

‘Déjà vu in Ethiopia’s May 24, 2015 Sham Elections: Marred by rampant electoral fraud, malpractice and violence by the ruling TPLF to stay on and maintain the 24 years tyrannic rules’

https://oromianeconomist.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/deja-vu-in-ethiopias-may-24-2015-sham-elections-marred-by-rampant-electoral-fraud-malpractice-and-violence-by-the-ruling-tplf-to-stay-on-and-maintain-the-24-years-tyrannic-rules/