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The Citizen Lab report: A campaign of targeted malware attacks apparently carried out by Ethiopia’s regime from 2016 until the present with new commercial spyware, PC Surveillance System offered by Cyberbit December 6, 2017

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Odaa OromooOromianEconomist

HRW: Ethiopia: New Spate of Abusive Surveillance

Spyware Industry Needs Regulation


CHAMPING AT THE CYBERBITETHIOPIAN DISSIDENTS TARGETED WITH NEW COMMERCIAL SPYWARE

Key Findings

  • This report describes how Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins. Targets include a US-based Ethiopian diaspora media outlet, the Oromia Media Network (OMN), a PhD student, and a lawyer. During the course of our investigation, one of the authors of this report was also targeted.
  • We found a public logfile on the spyware’s command and control server and monitored this logfile over the course of more than a year. We saw the spyware’s operators connecting from Ethiopia, and infected computers connecting from IP addresses in 20 countries, including IP addresses we traced to Eritrean companies and government agencies.
  • Our analysis of the spyware indicates it is a product known as PC Surveillance System (PSS), a commercial spyware product with a novel exploit-free architecture. PSS is offered by Cyberbit — an Israel-based cyber security company that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems — and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
  • We conducted Internet scanning to find other servers associated with PSS and found several servers that appear to be operated by Cyberbit themselves. The public logfiles on these servers seem to have tracked Cyberbit employees as they carried infected laptops around the world, apparently providing demonstrations of PSS to the Royal Thai Army, Uzbekistan’s National Security Service, Zambia’s Financial Intelligence Centre, the Philippine President’s Malacañang Palace, ISS World Europe 2017 in Prague, and Milipol 2017 in Paris. Cyberbit also appears to have provided other demos of PSS in France, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Serbia, and Nigeria.

1. Executive Summary

This report describes a campaign of targeted malware attacks apparently carried out by Ethiopia from 2016 until the present. In the attacks we document, targets receive via email a link to a malicious website impersonating an online video portal. When a target clicks on the link, they are invited to download and install an Adobe Flash update (containing spyware) before viewing the video. In some cases, targets are instead prompted to install a fictitious app called “Adobe PdfWriter” in order to view a PDF file. Our analysis traces the spyware to a heretofore unobserved player in the commercial spyware space: Israel’s Cyberbit, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems. The spyware appears to be a product called PC Surveillance System (PSS), recently renamed PC 360.

The attacks we first identified were targeted at Oromo dissidents based outside of Ethiopia, including the Oromia Media Network (OMN). Oromia is the largest regional ethnic state of Ethiopia by population and area, comprised mostly of the Oromo people.


Figure 1: Oromia Region, Ethiopia

We later discovered that the spyware’s command and control (C&C) server has a public logfile that appears to show both operator and victim activity, allowing us to gain insight into the identity of the operators and the targets. Based on our analysis of the logfile, it appears that the spyware’s operators are inside Ethiopia, and that victims also include various Eritrean companies and government agencies.

We scanned the Internet for similar C&C servers and found what appear to be several servers used by Cyberbit. The public logfiles on those servers seem to have tracked Cyberbit employees as they carried infected laptops around the world, apparently providing demonstrations of PSS to various potential clients. The logfiles appear to place Cyberbit employees at IP addresses associated with the Royal Thai Army, Uzbekistan’s National Security Service, Zambia’s Financial Intelligence Centre, the Philippine President’s Malacañang Palace, ISS World Europe 2017 in Prague, and Milipol 2017 in Paris. Cyberbit also appears to have provided other demos to clients we could not identify in France, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Serbia, and Nigeria.


Figure 2: Countries with Ethiopian Cyberbit targets.

This report is the latest in a growing body of work that shows the wide abuse of nation-state spyware by authoritarian leaders to covertly surveil and invisibly sabotage entities they deem political threats. After FinFisher, Hacking Team, and NSO Group, Cyberbit is the fourth vendor of nation-state spyware whose tools we have seen abused, and the second based in Israel.  Cyberbit’s PSS is also not the first spyware that Ethiopia has abused outside of its borders: in 2015, we discovered that Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency (INSA) was using Hacking Team’s RCS spyware to target US-based journalists at the Ethiopian Satellite Television Service (ESAT). Ethiopia has also previously targeted dissidents using FinFisher’s FinSpy spyware.

Citizen Lab has published a companion post outlining some of the legal and regulatory issues raised by this investigation. We also sent letters to Cyberbit and Adobe concerning the misuse of their respective products. Cyberbit responded on December 5, 2017, stating in part: “we appreciate your concern and query and we are addressing it subject to the legal and contractual confidentiality obligations Cyberbit Solutions is bound by.” Adobe respondedon December 6, 2017, stating in part: “we have taken steps to swiftly address this issue, including but not limited to contacting Cyberbit and other relevant service providers.”

2. Background

2.1. Oromo Protests and Diaspora Media Outlets

Largely peaceful protests erupted in the Ethiopian state of Oromia in November 2015, in response to a government decision to pursue a development project involving the razing of a forest and football field. Protesters coalesced around opposition to a larger plan, the Addis Ababa Master Plan, which they feared would displace some of the 2 million Oromo residents living around Addis Ababa. The government labeled the protesters terrorists and responded with lethal force and arbitrary arrests. Over the next year, security forces killed over 1000 people, many of them from Oromia, during anti-government protests. This culminated in a state of emergency that was called in October 2016 that lasted over 10 months.

Oromia Media Network (OMN) is a US-based media channel that describes itself as an “independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit news enterprise whose mission is to produce original and citizen-driven reporting on Oromia, the largest and most populous state in Ethiopia.”  OMN broadcasts via satellite, and also has an Internet and social media presence. According toHuman Rights Watch, OMN “played a key role in disseminating information throughout Oromia during the protests.” The government has “reportedly jammed OMN 15 times since it began operations in 2014” and arrested individuals for providing information to OMN or displaying the channel in their businesses.

2.2. Cyberbit and PSS

Cyberbit is an Israel-based cyber security company and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Israeli defense and homeland security manufacturer and contractor Elbit Systems. Cyberbit was established in 2015 in order to consolidate Elbit Systems’ activities relating to the Cyber Intelligence and Cyber Security markets.” Cyberbit merged with the NICE Cyber and Intelligence Division in 2015 after Elbit acquired that entity for approximately $158 million, with Cyberbit reportedly taking on the division’s employees. Elbit had previously acquiredC4 Security in June 2011 for $10.9 million; C4 described itself as “specializ[ing] in information warfare, SCADA and military C&C systems security.  According to one employee’s LinkedIn page, C4 also developed a product called “PSS Surveillance System,” billed as a “solution[] for intelligence and law enforcement agencies.” Cyberbit marketing materials1 refer to what appears to be the same system: “CYBERBIT PC Surveillance System (PSS).” PSS is also referenced on Elbit’s website as a solution “for collection from personal computers.” Elbit reportedly will be reorganizing Cyberbit, effective as of 2018, to separate its defense and commercial businesses, with Cyberbit continuing to operate the “C4i division and commercial cyber business.” Elbit’s major subsidiaries are located in Israel and the United States, and Elbit is listed on the NASDAQ and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.


Figure 3: Screenshot of PSS Console (Source: 
Cyberbit Marketing Materials).

Cyberbit is the second Israel-based nation-state spyware vendor we have identified and analyzed, the other being NSO Group. The two companies operate in the same market and have even been connected with the same clients. In an extradition request for former Panamanian President Martinelli, Panama alleged that Martinelli had directed the purchase of two spyware products: PSS and NSO Group’s Pegasus. Additionally, a leaked Hacking Team email about NSO claims that: “NSO only has mobile agents … Apparently the pc part is handled by another company, PSS.”

Cyberbit describes PSS as “a comprehensive solution for monitoring and extracting information from remote PCs.” As is standard in the marketing materials for spyware companies, Cyberbit represents that their design “eliminat[es] the possibility that the operation will be traced back to the origin.”


Figure 4: Data exfiltrated by PSS (Source: 
Cyberbit Marketing Materials).

Cyberbit says that PSS “helps LEAs and intelligence organizations to reduce crime, prevent terrorism and maintain public safety by gaining access, monitoring, extracting and analyzing information from remote PCs.”  Information that PSS can monitor and extract includes “VoIP calls, files, emails, audio recordings, keylogs and virtually any information available on the target device.”

3. Targeting of Jawar Mohammed

Jawar Mohammed is the Executive Director of the Oromia Media Network (OMN). He is also a prolific activist, with more than 1.2 million followers on Facebook. October 2, 2016 was the annual Irreecha cultural festival, the most important Oromo cultural festival. Millions of people each year gather at the festival site in Bishoftu, near Addis Ababa. In 2016, “scores of people” died at the festival “following a stampede triggered by security forces’ use of teargas and discharge of firearms in response to an increasingly restive crowd.” Jawar was active at the time on social media in stoking the passions of Oromo on the ground, circulating both verified and unverified information. On October 4, 2016, while in Minneapolis, USA, Jawar received the email in Figure 5.  He forwarded the email to Citizen Lab for analysis.

From: sbo radio <sbo.radio88[@]gmail.com>
Date: Tue, 4 Oct 2016 16:50:13 +0300
Subject: Fw: Confidential video made publicWhat do you think of this video ? In case you don’t have the right version of adobe flash and can’t watch the video, you can get the latest version of Adobe flash from Here
http://getadobeplayer%5B.%5Dcom/flashplayer/download/index7371.html.———- Forwarded message ———-
From: sbo radio <sbo.radio88[@]gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Oct 10, 2014 at 4:23 PM
Subject: Video hints Eritrea and Ethiopia war is highly likely to continueDear Excellencies,Video : Eritrea and Ethiopia war likely to continue
http://www.eastafro%5B.%5Dnet/eritrea-ethiopia-border-clash-video.html

regards,Sbo Radio
Mit freundlichen Grüßen

Figure 5: An email sent to Jawar on October 4, 2016. The sender most likely crafted the email to make it appear that this was a forwarded message.
The site eastafro[.]net appears to impersonate the (legitimate) Eritrean video website eastafro.com. When a target clicks on an operator-generated link to eastafro[.]net, JavaScript on the site checks to see whether the target is using Windows and whether their Adobe Flash Player is up to date. If the script detects a Windows user with an out-of-date Flash Player, it displays a message asking the user to update their Flash Player. If clicked, or after 15 seconds, the user is redirected to a page on getadobeplayer[.]com, which offers the user a real Flash Player update bundled with spyware.
Figure 6: Message displayed when a target clicks on a link to eastafro[.]net.

If the user downloads and installs the malicious Flash update, their computer is infected. It is clear that this is a targeted attack: if a user simply types in eastafro[.]net into their browser’s address bar, they are redirected to the legitimate site, eastafro.com. If a user does the same with getadobeplayer[.]com, they are served a “403 Forbidden” message. Both sites have robots.txt files instructing search engines not to crawl them. Access to the spyware is granted only if the user clicks on a link sent by the operator.

In all, Jawar received eleven emails between 5/30/2016 and 10/13/2016, and one more than a year later on 11/22/2017. Each email contained links to what were purportedly videos on eastafro[.]net, or Adobe Flash Player updates on getadobeplayer[.]com. The 11/22/2017 email contained a link to eastafro[.]net that asked the target to install “Adobe’s PdfWriter,” a fictitious product. The download contained the same spyware as the malicious Adobe Flash Player updates, but was packaged with CutePDF Writer, “a proprietary Portable Document Format converter and editor for Microsoft Windows developed by Acro Software,” with no connection to Adobe.


Figure 7: “Adobe PdfWriter” Installation Prompt.

In many cases, the operators appear to have registered their own accounts to send the infection attempts. However, the email address sbo.radio88[@]gmail.com used by operators to target Jawar is associated with the radio station of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). The account may have been compromised.

Table 1: Malicious emails received by Jawar.

Date Subject Sender
5/30/2016 Ethiopia Struggling with inside Challenges! eliassamare[@]gmail.com
6/15/2016 Tsorona Conflict Video! eliassamare[@]gmail.com
6/29/2016 UN Report and Diaspora Reaction! eliassamare[@]gmail.com
8/4/2016 Ethiopia and Current Options! eliassamare[@]gmail.com
8/15/2016 Fwd: Triggering Ethiopia Protests! eliassamare[@]gmail.com
9/5/2016 Saudi-Iran and the Red Sea! eliassamare[@]gmail.com
9/6/2016 Congrats – የኢሳት ፍሬዎች wadewadejoe[@]gmail.com
9/22/2016 Is Funding Ethiopia the Right time Now? eliassamare[@]gmail.com
10/4/2016 Fw: Confidential video made public sbo.radio88[@]gmail.com
10/10/2016 Egypt-Ethiopia new tension! awetnaeyu[@]gmail.com
10/13/2016 Confidential Videos made public wadewadejoe[@]gmail.com
11/22/2017 Gov official interrogated following leakage of national security meeting minutes lekanuguse2014[@]gmail.com

The Ethiopian Government charged Jawar with terrorism in February 2017 under the criminal code; Jawar and OMN denied all charges.

4. Investigation to Find Additional Targets

We set out to find additional targets. We conducted targeting testing of members of the Oromo community using Himaya, our email scanning tool, to determine whether they had received any similar malicious messages. We also found a public logfile on the spyware’s C&C server (Section 5.2); the logfile listed IP addresses of infected devices and we were able to identify additional victims based on their IP.

4.1. Other Targets

Etana Habte is a PhD student at SOAS University of London. He is a frequent commentator on Ethiopian issues and appears regularly on OMN.

Table 2: Malicious emails received by Etana.

Date Subject Sender
12/9/2016 Let’s stop EU & the World Bank from funding $500 m to Ethiopia shigut.gelleta[@]gmail.com
1/11/2017 Fwd: MONOSANTO (A multinational company)’s plan on Oromia networkoromostudies2015[@]gmail.com

The address shigut.gelleta@gmail.com appears to be an account created by attackers designed to impersonate Shigut Geleta, a member of the OLF.

Dr. Henok Gabisa is a Visiting Academic Fellow who teaches at Washington and Lee University School of Law and is the founder of the Association of Oromo Public Defenders (Public Interest Lawyers Association) in Oromia.

Table 3: Malicious emails received by Henok.

Date Subject Sender
3/6/2017 Why did MONOSANTO target the Oromiya region? networkoromostudies2015[@]gmail.com
3/13/2017 Democracy in Ethiopia: Can it be saved? networkoromostudies2015[@]gmail.com

Bill Marczak is a researcher at Citizen Lab and an author of this report. Marczak was targeted after he asked another target to forward an email sent by operators. At the time, the target’s email account was compromised (the target had been previously infected with this spyware).  On March 29, 2017, while in San Francisco, USA, Marczak received a message entitled “Martin Plaut and Ethiopia’s politics of famine,” from networkoromostudies2015[@]gmail.com. The email contained a link to eastafro[.]net.


Figure 8: Message received by Citizen Lab Senior Research Fellow Bill Marczak. The use of the Comic Sans font is due to the attacker’s font selection.

Other Targets: Several malicious emails we found were sent to multiple receipients, according to their headers.  We found 39 additional email addresses of targets using this method; at least 12 addresses appear to be linked to targets active on Oromo issues, or working for Oromo groups.

4.2. Logfile Analysis

Peculiarly, we found a public logfile on the spyware’s C&C server; the logfile recorded activity that allowed us to geolocate (or in some cases, identify) victims. We analyzed more than a year of logs showing victim (and operator) activity. Each logfile entry contains a unique identifier (a GUID) associated with the infection, a value indicating whether the entry records victim or operator activity, the IP address that the infected device (or operator) connected to the C&C server from, and finally a timestamp showing when the communication took place (for more details on the logfile, see Section 4.3). The format of the logfile allowed us to track infections as they moved between different IP addresses, such as when an infected target carried their laptop between home and work, or while traveling.

During more than a year of monitoring the server’s logfiles, we observed 67 different GUIDs.  All infections were operated by the same operator, who only ever used one IP address, which belongs to a satellite connection (except for a three hour period on a single day when the operator’s activity “failed over” to two other IP addresses, one address in Ethiopia and one VPN, perhaps due to transient satellite connection failure). We identified 11 of the 67 GUIDs as likely resulting from testing by the operator, or execution by researchers, based on their apparent short duration. Further, we noted that some GUIDs likely referenced the same infected device, as they represented consecutive, non-overlapping infections whose IP addresses corresponded with the same Internet Service Provider (ISP). This was the case for two GUIDs in the UK, two in South Sudan, and 12 in Uganda.

We arrived at 43 GUIDs that we believe represent distinct infected devices. We then sought to geolocate each infection to a country. We first ran the MaxMind GeoLite 2 Countrydatabase on each IP and associated a set of countries with each infection. For each infection that had only one country associated with it, we examined a small number of IP addresses from the infection, to see whether those IPs looked like they were actually in that country, or whether geolocation may have been incorrect due to the IP being associated with a VPN or satellite connection.

For infections that MaxMind associated with multiple countries, we determined the dominant country, based on the country with the largest number of logfile entries for that infection. For the dominant country, we checked a small number of IP addresses to make sure the geolocation was correct. For the other countries, we checked each IP in an attempt to eliminate incorrect geolocation. We noted four infections that predominantly connected from satellite connections, which MaxMind geolocated to UK or UAE; we changed the geolocation of these devices to Eritrea, as the infections either “failed over” to IPs registered to EriTel, or shared the same satellite IP address as other infections that “failed over” to EriTel IPs.

Table 4: Number of infections we geolocated to each country, for countries where we geolocated more than one infection.

Country # Infected Devices
Eritrea 7
Canada 6
Germany 6
Australia 4
USA 4
South Africa 2

Other countries in which we saw only a single infected device were: Belgium, Egypt, Ethiopia, UK, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Norway, Qatar, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, and Yemen.

After we eliminated VPN IPs, and geolocated the four infections that predominantly connected from satellite connections, we found that 40 of 43 infections only ever communicated from a single country. The remaining three devices appear to have travelled between several countries. The three infections that traveled internationally are as follows:

  • A device that twice travelled from Eritrea (via Germany) to the United Nations in Geneva.  We geolocated this device to Eritrea.
  • A device that predominantly connected from the University of Tsukuba in Japan that travelled to Eritrea. We geolocated this device to Japan.
  • A device that predominantly connected from York University in Canada that travelled to Eritrea. We geolocated this device to Canada.

We were able to trace six of the infections (five in Eritrea, one abroad) to Eritrean government agencies or companies, suggesting that operators are likely targeting members of the Eritrean government in addition to Ethiopian dissidents.

4.3. Other Attacker Sites

During our analysis we, identified two other websites sharing the same IP address as getadobeplayer[.]com, which also appear to have been used by the same attackers to target victims with the same spyware: diretube.co[.]uk (impersonating diretube[.]com, an Ethiopian video site), and meskereme[.]net (impersonating meskerem[.]net, an Eritrean opposition website).

The diretube.co[.]uk site used the same Adobe Flash update ploy to direct users to malware on getadobeplayer[.]com, whereas the meskereme[.]net site displays a message saying “Problem reading Tigrinya? Install these fonts,” with links to the fonts bundled with spyware.  The legitimate website, meskerem[.]net displays the same message, but links to fonts without the spyware.

5. Attribution to Cyberbit and Ethiopia

This section describes how we attributed the spyware to Cyberbit and Ethiopia.

5.1. Digital Signature Points to Cyberbit

By monitoring getadobeplayer[.]com, we found and analyzed five samples of the spyware as it was updated over time.

Table 5: The samples from getadobeplayer[.]com that we analyzed.

MD5 Name
568d8c43815fa9608974071c49d68232 flashplayer20_a_install.exe
80b7121c4ecac1c321ca2e3f507104c2 flashplayer21_xa_install.exe
8d6ce1a256acf608d82db6539bf73ae7 flashplayer22_xa_install.exe
840c4299f9cd5d4df46ee708c2c8247c flashplayer23_xa_install.exe
961730964fd76c93603fb8f0d445c6f2 flashplayer24_xa_install.exe

Each sample communicates with two command and control (C&C) servers: time-local[.]comand time-local[.]net.

We found a structurally similar sample (see Section 7 for details on structural similarities) in VirusTotal:

MD5: 376f28fb0aa650d6220a9d722cdb108d
SHA1: c7b4b97369a2ca77e916d5175d162dc2b823763b
SHA256: c76d2a8c1c8865b1aa6512e13b77cbc7446022b7be3378f7233c5ca4a5e58116

That sample communicated with a C&C server at the following URL: pssts1.nozonenet[.]com/ts8/ts8.php (note the use of “PSS” in the URL). The sample also drops an EXE file containing a digital signature (valid as of the date submitted to VirusTotal) produced by a certificate with the following details:

CN = C4 Security
O = C4 Security
STREET = 13 Noach Mozes St
L = Tel aviv
S = Gush Dan
PostalCode = 67442
C = IL
RFC822 Name=tal.barash@c4-security.com

Note that c4-security.com was the official website of C4 security, according to a brochureposted on the website of the Israeli Export Institute.

5.2. Public Logfile Analysis Points to Ethiopia and Cyberbit

While monitoring additional PSS C&C servers that we discovered during scanning (Section 6.1), we found that one of these servers temporarily exposed a directory listing in response to a normal GET / HTTP/1.1 request (Figure 9). The directory listing contained the text: “Apache/2.4.7 (Ubuntu) Server at cyberbitc[.]com Port 80,” indicating that the server was associated with Cyberbit. The website cyberbitc[.]com is owned by Cyberbit and was used by Cyberbit before they acquired cyberbit[.]com in March 2017.2


Figure 9: Directory listing on one of the servers that earlier matched our fingerprint.

This directory listing also revealed the existence of several files, including a file called rec.dat, which at first glance we noticed was encoded in binary format. We suspected that rec.dat might be a logfile, as it appeared to be constantly updated on the C&C servers. We noticed that rec.dat existed on all of the C&C servers we detected in our scanning and were able to test (Section 6.1), including on time-local[.]com and time-local[.]net, the C&C servers associated with the spyware samples sent to Oromo targets.

5.2.1. Logfile Analysis Shows Ethiopian Operator

To verify our logfile hypothesis, we performed a test infection of a virtual machine using one of the samples sent to Oromo targets and we allowed the virtual machine to communicate with the C&C server. The traffic comprised HTTP POST requests (Section 7.7), each of which contained an agentid, a GUID initially {00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000} and later nonzero.

After the infection, we downloaded rec.dat and found that it contained a series of records, several with our IP address, and our agentid GUID, in binary form. Each record of the logfile is delimited by the string \x41\x41\x41 (‘AAA’) and can be parsed with the following regular expression:

‘(.{4})\x00\x00(.)(.{4})(.{16})AAA’

The first group of four bytes is a UNIX timestamp, the second group of 1 byte is a type value (which, in our testing was always 2, 17, 21, 33, or 37), the third group of 4 bytes is an IP address, and the fourth group of 16 bytes is a GUID. The file appears to be a circular (i.e., size-capped) logfile stored in binary format whose maximum size is defined in config.ini to be 10MB. Old entries are removed from the front of the file as new entries are written to the end.

Peculiarly, we noticed additional entries in rec.dat with our GUID but with a different IP address, 207.226.46.xxx. We noticed that 207.226.46.xxx was also associated with every other GUID in rec.dat. We determined that this IP address is associated with a satellite connection.

Over a period of more than a year, we downloaded and analyzed this file at regular intervals, obtaining a total of 388 rec.dat samples from each of time-local[.]com and time-local[.]net (we also began pulling samples of rec.dat from new servers we detected in scanning). Our rec.dat files from time-local[.]com contain more than 32 million entries (more than 28 million entries are operator interactions and approximately 4 million are victim interactions).

In all of our rec.dat samples from time-local[.]com and time-local[.]net, we noted that entries in the logfile for all GUIDs with types 2, 21, and 33 only ever involved the IP address 207.226.46.xxx (except for a brief period of three hours on a single day, where we saw the activity “fail over” between 207.226.46.xxx and two other IP addresses, one VPN address, and one address in Ethiopia). Thus, we suspect that types 2, 21, and 33 represent interaction by the operator. We suspect that types 17 and 37 correspond to interactions by infected devices.

Table 6: IP addresses that the Ethiopian operator connected from.

IP Provider
207.226.46.xxx Satellite Connection
197.156.86.xxx Ethio Telecom
192.186.133.xxx CyberGhost VPN

That the attacker’s activity “failed over” between their satellite IP and an Ethio Telecom address suggests that the operator is inside Ethiopia.

5.2.2. Thirteen Servers Show a Cyberbit Nexus

Our scanning found 15 PSS C&C servers in all. Of those, two were the Ethiopia servers. Of the remaining 13 we found, we suspect all are operated by Cyberbit, perhaps as demonstration or development servers. Ten of the servers’ logfiles included the IP address 37.142.120.xxx, which is pointed to by a subdomain of cyberbit[.]net. Two other servers’ logfiles included the IP address 64.251.13.xxx, which also appeared in the logfile of one of the seven servers, as an operator of infections connecting back from 37.142.13.xxx, an IP address pointed to by a subdomain of cyberbit[.]net.

One of the servers, pupki[.]co, was unavailable when we tried to fetch rec.dat. The domain name was registered to a “Yevgeniy Gavrikov”. An individual by this name currently works as an “integration specialist” for Cyberbit, according to LinkedIn.

6. Other PSS Activity

6.1. Scanning for More C&C Servers

We fingerprinted the command and control (C&C) servers used by the spyware, time-local[.]com and time-local[.]net, based on the fact that they typically returned the following distinctive message upon a normal GET / HTTP/1.1 request:

PHP Configuration Error. Can not fetch xml request string

Over the course of our scanning, we found a total of 15 IP addresses matching this same fingerprint.

Table 7: PSS C&C servers we found in IPv4 scanning.

C&C IP Address Domain Name3
51.15.48.xxx
80.82.64.32 time-local[.]com
80.82.67.xxx
80.82.79.44 time-local[.]net
89.248.170.xxx
93.174.89.xxx
93.174.91.xxx
93.174.91.xxx
94.102.53.xxx
94.102.60.xxx
94.102.63.xxx
104.236.23.3 pupki[.]co
111.90.147.xxx
185.125.230.xxx
185.125.230.xxx

6.2. Demonstration Websites

By examining sites on the same IP address as eastafro[.]net, we found two additional sites: one site impersonating Download.com and one website impersonating the homepage of Avira Antivirus. These sites contained versions of several apps bundled with PSS, including Avira Antivirus, Ventrilo, Avast AntiVirus, and CCleaner. The versions of PSS we found talked to C&C servers in the list above that we identified as Cyberbit-run servers.

6.3. Public Logfile Analysis of Other Servers

In addition to the Ethiopia servers (Section 5.2), we analyzed the logfiles of 12 of the 13 other servers. We were able to identify what we believe are several product demonstrations to various clients around the world. Most of the demonstrations show similar patterns: activity during business hours from IP addresses that appear to belong to potential clients and activity off-hours at IP addresses that appear to belong to hotels. In a few cases, the activity is preceded or followed by activity from what appears to be airport Wi-Fi access points.


Figure 10: Cyberbit product demonstrations suggested by C&C logfiles.

In our analysis here, we introduce a notion of a period of activity to try and abstract away gaps between logfile entries that may be uninteresting. We say that a spyware infection is active between two logfile entries (we only include activity from the infected device here, i.e., types 17 and 37) if there is no more than an hour in between the entries. We omit periods of activity that are less than one minute from our consideration (except if they provide evidence that the infected device has moved). In each country case we present here, we are listing all the activity we found across the nine Cyberbit-operated C&C servers (perhaps excluding periods of activity less than a minute).

6.3.1. Timeline of Suspected Demonstrations

3/2016: Thailand (2 days). We found infections in Thailand from the IP 202.29.97.X, in AS4621, which appears to be an ASN used by various Thai universities. Tracerouting to 202.29.97.X yields the hop (royal-thai-army-to-902-1-5-gi-09-cr-pyt.uni.net.th). The IPs 202.29.97.(X-3) and 202.29.97.(X-1) return a TLS certificate whose CN is a subdomain of signalschool[.]net, which is registered to the Royal Thai Army’s Signal School. We did note that 202.29.97.X also appears to be a VPN. Nevertheless, it seems that the IP is under the control of the Royal Thai Army. We also observed each infection changing between several IPs that appear to belong to various mobile data providers.

The table below lists periods of activity for each infection; the first column (#) indicates the number of the infection; the second and third columns provide the minimum and maximum date and time of the period of activity (in the country’s local time, accounting for DST); the fourth column provides the duration of the period of activity (H:MM:SS); and the fifth column lists the location where the activity took place (or the likely identity of the agency receiving the demonstration).

Table 8: March 2016 suspected demo to Royal Thai Army.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 09:22:17 Day 1 10:07:05 0:44:48 Royal Thai Army
2 Day 1 14:52:10 Day 1 15:38:13 0:46:03 Royal Thai Army
3 Day 2 14:45:51 Day 2 17:01:11 2:15:20 Royal Thai Army

3/2016: Uzbekistan (3 days). We found four infections in Uzbekistan. The first two were from an IP address pointed to by a subdomain of rdhotel[.]uz, which is registered by an individual who is listed on LinkedIn as the manager of the Radisson Blu in Tashkent. The latter two were from an IP address linked to Uzbekistan’s National Security Service by the leaked Hacking Team emails.

Table 9: March 2016 suspected demo to Uzbekistan National Security Service.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 23:26:52 Day 2 00:10:00 0:43:08 Radisson Blu Tashkent
2 Day 2 08:46:20 Day 2 09:06:36 0:20:16 Radisson Blu Tashkent
3 Day 2 15:40:02 Day 2 15:45:52 0:05:50 National Security Service
3 Day 2 17:16:32 Day 2 18:24:42 1:08:10 National Security Service
4 Day 3 12:09:17 Day 3 12:41:35 0:32:18 National Security Service
4 Day 3 14:27:04 Day 3 14:53:39 0:26:35 National Security Service

10/2016: France (1 day). We found two infections in France on the same day in October 2016.  The first appeared to be from an IP address associated with the airport Wi-Fi at Paris’s Charles De Gaulle (CDG) airport. The second was from what appeared to be a landline IP address in Paris, which we could not attribute.

Table 10: October 2016 suspected demo to unknown clients in France.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 11:19:15 Day 1 11:24:04 0:04:49 CDG Airport Wi-Fi
2 Day 1 15:24:55 Day 1 16:08:03 0:43:08 86.245.198.xxx

11/2016: Vietnam (2 days). We found three infections in Vietnam. One was linked to an IP address that is numerically adjacent to another IP address that returns a web interface for an “HP MSM760 Controller” that displays the following information:

System name: Hilton Gardent Inn-HANOP
Location: Hanoi

We suspect that this activity is associated with the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel in Hanoi. The other activity appears to be from mobile broadband IP addresses; the identity of the potential client is not indicated by the data.

Table 11: November 2016 suspected demo to unknown clients in Vietnam.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 16:34:36 Day 1 18:52:09 2:17:33 Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi
1 Day 1 18:52:48 Day 1 19:01:12 0:08:24 (Mobile Broadband)
1 Day 1 19:35:50 Day 1 19:41:14 0:05:24 Hilton Garden Inn Hanoi
2 Day 2 11:34:24 Day 2 12:12:26 0:38:02 (Mobile Broadband)
3 Day 2 15:32:15 Day 2 17:13:41 1:41:26 (Mobile Broadband)

12/2016: Kazakhstan (1 day). We found an infection from an IP address registered (according to WHOIS information) to “Saad Hotel LLP” with an address matching the Marriott Hotel in Astana.

Table 12: December 2016 suspected demo to unknown clients in Kazakhstan.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 14:20:07 Day 1 14:35:39 0:15:32 Marriott Hotel Astana

12/2016: Zambia (2 days). Most of the activity was from mobile broadband IPs. However, the second infection was from an IP pointed to by a subdomain of fic.gov[.]zm, the website for Zambia’s Financial Intelligence Centre.

Table 13: December 2016 suspected demo to Zambia Financial Intelligence Centre.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 21:23:21 Day 1 21:57:52 0:34:31 (Mobile Broadband)
1 Day 2 05:20:05 Day 2 05:43:38 0:23:33 (Mobile Broadband)
2 Day 2 11:00:52 Day 2 11:29:37 0:28:45 Financial Intelligence Centre

1/2017: Rwanda (2 days). We could not attribute any of the IPs in Rwanda.

Table 14: January 2017 suspected demo to unknown clients in Rwanda.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 17:10:48 Day 1 18:28:47 1:17:59 (Unknown Loc 1)
1 Day 1 22:49:12 Day 1 23:27:30 0:38:18 (Unknown Loc 2)
2 Day 1 23:30:16 Day 2 04:18:06 4:47:50 (Unknown Loc 2)
3 Day 2 09:14:59 Day 2 09:27:34 0:12:35 (Unknown Loc 1)
4 Day 2 09:54:15 Day 2 10:51:47 0:57:32 (Unknown Loc 1)
5 Day 2 10:01:45 Day 2 12:54:13 2:52:28 (Unknown Loc 1)

2/2017: Philippines (5 days). We found an infection in February 2017 at 116.50.244.15. The IPs 116.50.244.10, 116.50.244.7, and 116.50.244.8 are pointed to by manila.newworldhotels.com or subdomains thereof. 116.50.244.7 is a Cisco VPN login page, which lists the “Group” as “New_World_Makati.” We assume that the Manila New World Makati Hotel is also the owner of 116.50.244.15.

This was followed by an infection one day later at an IP address pointed to by a subdomain of malacanang.gov[.]ph, which is the website of Malacañang Palace. The palace is the primary residence and offices of the Philippine President (Rodrigo Duterte as of the date of the demo).  The Malacañang Palace infection was followed by an infection from two other IP addresses in the Philippines.

Table 15: February 2017 suspected demo to Philippines Presidency.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 18:40:13 Day 1 18:55:01 0:14:48 New World Makati Hotel Manila
2 Day 2 12:01:08 Day 2 12:25:50 0:24:42 Malacañang Palace
3 Day 3 11:32:08 Day 3 11:53:13 0:21:05 112.198.102.xxx
3 Day 5 21:52:32 Day 5 22:28:55 0:36:23 202.57.61.xxx

3/2017: Kazakhstan (1 day). We found an infection from an IP address pointed to by kazimpex[.]kz. According to an article on IntelligenceOnline, Kazimpex is said to be closely linked with the “National Security Committee of the Republic of Kazakhstan” (KNB), an intelligence agency in Kazakhstan.

Table 16: March 2017 suspected demo to Kazimpex in Kazakhstan.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 11:29:55 Day 1 12:03:32 0:33:37 Kazimpex

3/2017: Serbia (2 days). We found activity from Serbia on a single IP address registered to “NBGP Properties Doo,” which is the trading name of an apartment complex and business centre located adjacent to the Crowne Plaza in Belgrade. Both NBGP and the Crowne Plaza are owned by Delta Holding, a major Serbian company. It is possible that activity from the IP 79.101.39.101 includes activity from both NBGP and the Crowne Plaza.

Table 17: March 2017 suspected demo to unknown clients in Serbia.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 12:20:42 Day 1 12:55:11 0:34:29 Delta Holding Complex
1 Day 2 00:15:30 Day 2 00:33:06 0:17:36 Delta Holding Complex
2 Day 2 00:51:04 Day 2 01:15:15 0:24:11 Delta Holding Complex
2 Day 2 06:58:53 Day 2 07:41:58 0:43:05 Delta Holding Complex

3/2017: Nigeria (2 days). We found one infection in Nigeria from two IPs. We could not identify the IPs.

Table 18: March 2017 suspected demo to unknown clients in Nigeria.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 16:38:52 Day 1 17:11:57 0:33:05 (Unknown Loc 1)
1 Day 1 18:21:41 Day 1 19:13:24 0:51:43 (Unknown Loc 1)
1 Day 2 10:26:20 Day 2 11:43:28 1:17:08 (Unknown Loc 2)

4/2017: Kazakhstan (1 day). We found an infection from the Marriott hotel in Astana, followed by an infection from an IP pointed to by a subdomain of mcmr[.]kz, the website of “Mobil Realty,” a commercial real estate management company.

Table 19: April 2017 suspected demo to unknown clients in Kazakhstan.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 12:26:04 Day 1 12:37:55 0:11:51 Marriott Hotel Astana
2 Day 1 18:09:50 Day 1 18:21:54 0:12:04 Mobil Realty

6/2017: ISS World Europe (2 days). We saw four infections between 6/14/2017 and 6/15/2017 from IP address 82.142.85.165 in the Czech Republic. ISS World Europe 2017 was held in Prague, Czech Republic from 6/13/2017 – 6/15/2017, and Cyberbit gave a presentation on 6/13/2017, according to the schedule. This same IP address appears in the headers of leaked Hacking Team emails sent by two employees on 6/3/2015 and 6/4/2015. These employees mentioned that they would be attending ISS World Europe on 6/3/2015, held at the same venue as the 2017 ISS World Europe. The IP address 82.142.85.165 may be associated with the Clarion Congress Hotel in Prague (the ISS World Europe venue).

Table 20: June 2017 suspected demo at ISS World Europe in Prague.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 2017-06-14 13:17:46 2017-06-14 13:52:04 0:34:18 ISS World Europe
3 2017-06-14 16:45:04 2017-06-14 17:27:33 0:42:29 ISS World Europe
3 2017-06-15 07:18:23 2017-06-15 07:19:38 0:01:15 ISS World Europe
4 2017-06-15 08:17:18 2017-06-15 09:36:03 1:18:45 ISS World Europe

6/2017: Zambia (2 days). Most of the activity was from mobile broadband IPs.

Table 21: June 2017 suspected demo to unknown clients in Zambia.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day 1 19:00:54 Day 1 19:38:34 0:37:40 (Mobile Broadband)
2 Day 2 09:44:48 Day 2 10:22:28 0:37:40 (Mobile Broadband)
3 Day 2 14:36:18 Day 2 15:00:00 0:23:42 (Mobile Broadband)
3 Day 2 21:59:59 Day 2 22:19:09 0:19:10 (Mobile Broadband)

11/2017: Philippines (6 days). In November 2017, we observed what appeared to be two different Cyberbit employees travelling together from Israel to the New World Makati Hotel in Manila.

The infections started out in Israel, one on 10/15/2017 and one on 11/2/2017. While in Israel, and during the workweek (Sunday to Thursday), both infections connected from what appears to be Cyberbit’s office (37.142.13.xxx, pointed to by two subdomains of cyberbit[.]net) during business hours (roughly 09:00 – 18:00 local time). After hours, the infections connected back from what we believe are home IP addresses of the employees. Each infection connected back from different home IPs during overlapping periods, which leads us to believe that the two infections represent different Cyberbit employees. It appears that each employee was carrying an infected laptop between home and the office each day (perhaps for spyware development and testing purposes).

After they last connected from Israel, one infection connected 15 hours later from Hong Kong for six minutes, between 14:52 and 14:58 local time. The infections then connected from the Philippines (116.50.244.xxx) as early as 22:41 local time, suggesting a flight itinerary from Tel Aviv to Manila, by way of Hong Kong.

Table 22: Employee #1 traveling from Israel to Manila; suspected demo to unknown clients.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
1 Day -1 15:46:24 Day -1 15:46:24 0:00:00 (DSL IP in Israel)
1 Day 1 14:52:15 Day 1 14:58:04 0:05:49 (Hong Kong)
1 Day 1 23:00:03 Day 1 23:56:11 0:56:08 New World Makati Hotel Manila
1 Day 3 20:19:20 Day 3 21:01:09 0:41:49 New World Makati Hotel Manila
1 Day 4 14:42:43 Day 4 14:44:39 0:01:56 (Mobile Broadband)
1 Day 4 16:14:21 Day 4 18:31:40 2:17:19 (Mobile Broadband)
1 Day 4 20:54:47 Day 5 08:00:09 11:05:22 New World Makati Hotel Manila
1 Day 9 09:05:14 Day 9 12:59:54 3:54:40 Cyberbit

 

Table 23: Employee #2 traveling from Israel to Manila; suspected demo to unknown clients.
# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
2 Day -1 15:00:24 Day -1 17:32:38 2:32:14 (DSL IP in Israel)
2 Day 1 22:41:32 Day 2 00:00:08 1:18:36 New World Makati Hotel Manila
2 Day 3 20:49:07 Day 3 21:07:51 0:18:44 New World Makati Hotel Manila
2 Day 4 10:30:03 Day 4 18:24:22 7:54:19 (Mobile Broadband)
2 Day 5 10:32:42 Day 5 10:56:48 0:24:06 (Mobile Broadband)
2 Day 5 13:04:42 Day 5 15:43:05 2:38:23 (Mobile Broadband)
2 Day 6 15:56:27 Day 6 17:47:18 1:50:51 New World Makati Hotel Manila
2 Day 9 09:13:20 Day 9 18:56:35 9:43:15 Cyberbit

11/2017: Milipol Paris (4 days): From 11/21/2017 – 11/24/2017, we found an infection active from an IP address 185.113.160.20, which appears to be associated with the Paris Nord Villepinte exhibition center. The IP is pointed to by several subdomains of villepinte2017.dynu[.]net and also by pnv.vipnetwork[.]fr. The Milipol Paris 2017 exhibition was held between 11/21 and 11/24 and the Paris Nord Villepinte exhibition center. Thus, it appears that Cyberbit employees were performing demos there.

Table 24: November 2017 suspected demo at Milipol Paris.

# Activity Start (Local) Activity End (Local) Duration Location
3 Day 1 08:15:24 Day 1 09:18:21 1:02:57 Milipol Paris
3 Day 1 10:44:02 Day 1 13:21:09 2:37:07 Milipol Paris
3 Day 1 14:50:25 Day 1 15:32:46 0:42:21 Milipol Paris
3 Day 2 08:29:27 Day 2 17:01:11 8:31:44 Milipol Paris
3 Day 3 08:10:28 Day 3 09:34:09 1:23:41 Milipol Paris
3 Day 3 13:02:05 Day 3 14:59:37 1:57:32 Milipol Paris
3 Day 3 15:43:03 Day 3 17:02:29 1:19:26 Milipol Paris
3 Day 4 08:31:07 Day 4 10:43:35 2:12:28 Milipol Paris

6.3.2. Suspected Researcher Activity

We found several short-lived infections on Cyberbit-operated servers that seem less likely to be purposeful infections and more consistent with activity by cybersecurity researchers or other testing activity. We group activity that is temporally similar below, though it is unclear if this activity is related.

We found one infection in the UK on 11/10/2016 lasting ~15s.

We found one infection from Google on 2/7/2017 (lasting 11m), followed by three infections in Germany on 2/7/2017 and 2/8/2017. In Germany, there was one initial infection 14 minutes after the Google infection, with a single pingback. 2h10m later, there was an infection lasting 1 minute. 13h later, there was an infection with a single pingback.

We found an infection with a single pingback from an IP address in Everett, Washington, USA on 10/17/2017. We found two overlapping infections in Russia on 10/18/2017 (~2m each), followed 20 minutes later by two infections in China, 45 minutes apart (~30s each). We found a ~20s infection in Canada on 10/19/2017.

We found an infection with a single pingback from an IP address registered to Brandon University in Canada on 10/31/2017. We found two infections in Norway on 11/1/2017 (one infection with a single pingback, and one infection 3m30s later lasting for ~20s).

6.3.3. Unexplained Activity

We found several infections on the Cyberbit-operated PSS C&C servers that were long-running, and not from VPN connections or from countries where Cyberbit has a known presence. Thus, this activity did not immediately seem to represent demonstrations or development activity. We found one infection in Iran between 9/20/2016 and 11/22/2016. We found one infection in Canada between 3/7/2017 and 11/22/2017. We found one infection in Finland between 5/26/2017 and 11/28/2017. We found one infection in Indonesia from 10/28/2017 to 11/10/2017. We found one infection in Slovakia from a single IP address active between 11/1/2017 and 12/1/2017. We found one infection in Ethiopiafrom 10/25/2017 to 12/1/2017, with no known overlap with the Ethiopia client’s IP address space.

6.4. Spoofed Code Signing Certificates?

We identified several cases where we suspect that the spyware operators, or Cyberbit themselves, obtained digital certificates in the names of real companies, including an Israeli intellectual property law firm.

One malicious Adobe Flash executable we found used by the Ethiopian operator was signed by an authenticode certificate issued by Comodo to a named entity called “Flashpoint IP.”

CN = Flashpoint IP
O = Flashpoint IP
STREET = 2nd Raban Gamliel
L = Elad
S = Israel
PostalCode = 40800
C = IL
RFC822 Name=ben.wiseman@flashpoint-ip.com

We found a company called “Flash Point IP,” with the same street address as in the digital certificate, included the Patent Attorneys Ledger published by Israel’s Ministry of Justice. The website listed by the Ministry of Justice for the firm is flashpointip.com. However, the website in the certificate’s RFC822 name appears to be a lookalike domain that is subtly differentflashpoint-ip[.]com.

We examined the WHOIS registration of the lookalike domain flashpoint-ip[.]com:

Registrant Name: BEN WISEMAN
Registrant Organization: FLASHPOINT IP LTD
Registrant Street: RABAN GAMLIEL 2
Registrant City: ELAD
Registrant State/Province: SHOMRON
Registrant Postal Code: 40800
Registrant Country: IL
Registrant Phone: +972.525649427
Registrant Email: BENWISEMAN99@GMAIL.COM

The firm’s website, flashpointip.com, has a New York registration address, a different registrant name, and a @bezeqint.net contact address.

We found one additional domain, cd-media4u[.]com, registered with the same phone number as flashpoint-ip[.]com. The WHOIS information is:

Registrant Name: DAN WISEMAN
Registrant Organization: C. D. MEDIA LTD
Registrant Street: BEN YEHUDA 60
Registrant City: TEL AVIV
Registrant State/Province: TEL AVIV
Registrant Postal Code: 6343107
Registrant Country: IL
Registrant Phone: +972.525649427
Registrant Email: DANWISEMAN99@GMAIL.COM

Note the similar names Dan Wiseman and Ben Wiseman and the similar email addresses danwiseman99@gmail.com and benwiseman99@gmail.com. We found one reference to “CD Media Ltd” which appears to be an Israeli software publisher (http://www.cd-media.co.il/).

Given that we found two instances where the same entity (WHOIS phone number +972.525649427) registered what appear to be lookalike domains for two different Israeli companies, it is possible that these certificates may have been improperly obtained. This is not the first instance in which improperly obtained digital certificates may have been used with commercial spyware. Hacking Team appears to have obtained several digital certificates in the names of people whose passport photos appeared on a now-defunct site, thewhistleblowers[.]org.4

We identified two further digital certificates used by the operators, in the names of “Etefaq Consulting Ltd,” and “Emerging European Capital.” These certificates were on samples we downloaded from getadobeplayer[.]com, as well as samples from the Avira Antivirus and Download.com impersonation websites (Section 6.2). Unfortunately, the signatures did not contain the RFC822 Name field, so we do not have any indications as to their legitimacy.

CN = Emerging European Capital
O = Emerging European Capital
STREET = Svaetoplukova 12
L = Bojnice
S = Slovakia
PostalCode = 97201
C = SK

We found what appears to be the website of “Emerging European Capital” (http://ee-cap.com), which is described as a company offering “Private Banking services to High Net Worth Individuals in Central and Eastern Europe.” The address in the digital certificate matches an address listed on the website. The individual mentioned on the website, Martin Masar, appears to be a real individual, and is listed as serving on the Supervisory Board of Petrocommerce Ukraine Bank. However, without more information, we cannot know whether the digital certificate is legitimate or not.

CN = ETEFAQ CONSULTING LIMITED
O = ETEFAQ CONSULTING LIMITED
STREET = 1 MYKONOS STREET
L = NICOSIA
S = NICOSIA
PostalCode = 1045
C = CY

We found an “ETEFAQ CONSULTING LIMITED” in the Cyprus corporate registry (# ΗΕ 329071). However, the registered address did not match the address in the digital certificate. The company’s line of business is unclear, and it appears to maintain a simple (hacked) website with a “Contact Us” form (http://etefaqconsulting.com/).

7. Technical Analysis of the Spyware

Altogether, we analyzed nine samples. This includes the sample from VirusTotal signed by the “C4 Security” certificate (Section 5.1), as well as five samples gathered from getadobeplayer[.]com, and three samples gathered from the Avira Antivirus and Download.com impersonation websites (Section 6.2).

Based on strings found during our analysis of configuration files used by the spyware, these samples cover versions of PSS ranging from v4.3.3 to 6.1.0. Major version changes contain changes to obfuscation techniques, overall structure, and general functionality, while minor version changes seem to contain smaller, less noticeable changes. The following analysis covers the general behavior and characteristics of PSS, with version-specific differences noted where appropriate.

Table 25: Versions of PSS we analyzed

MD5 Source PSS Version
376f28fb0aa650d6220a9d722cdb108d VirusTotal 4.3.3
568d8c43815fa9608974071c49d68232 getadobeplayer[.]com 5.7.5
80b7121c4ecac1c321ca2e3f507104c2 getadobeplayer[.]com 5.1.0
8d6ce1a256acf608d82db6539bf73ae7 getadobeplayer[.]com 5.9.7
840c4299f9cd5d4df46ee708c2c8247c getadobeplayer[.]com 6.0.0
961730964fd76c93603fb8f0d445c6f2 getadobeplayer[.]com 6.0.0
0488cf9c58f895076311bf8e2d93bf63 Avira Antivirus Impersonation Website 6.0.0
ca782d91daea6d67dfc49d6e7baf39b0 Download.com Impersonation Website 6.0.0
f483fe294b4c3af1e3c8163200d60aae Download.com Impersonation Website 6.1.0

7.1. Overview

Overall, the samples we analyzed are made up of four main components: the AgentLnkProxyPayload DLL, and Pipeserver. The Agent is the main program responsible for providing operators remote access to an infected machine and carries out most activity after infection. If the Agent is not installed with administrator privileges, then the LnkProxyfacilitates the replacement of shortcut (lnk) and executable (exe) files with malicious versions that will try to trick the user into granting administrator privileges to the Agent. The Payload DLL is a small DLL file that is used to infect certain whitelisted DLLs as a persistence mechanism, to ensure that the Agent is running. Finally, the Pipeserver is used to coordinate access to global handles and perform network communication.

Each of these four components is packed and stored inside the initial spyware payload. The earliest version we analyzed (4.3.3) stored these files as either plaintext or as zlib compressed data. Later versions added AES-256-CBC encryption and the use of different keys per dropped component for additional obfuscation (Section 7.3).

7.2. Installation and Persistence

Once a victim executes one of the initial payloads (e.g., a fake Adobe Flash update), the spyware unpacks the Agent component (described in Section 7.4) and saves it to %TEMP%\Profile. Then, the spyware checks to see if it is running with administrator privileges.  If so, then the spyware executes the dropped Agent; if not, then the spyware unpacks and installs the LnkProxy component (described in Section 7.5) in an attempt to trick the user into giving it administrator privileges.

Once the dropped Agent has been executed with administrator privileges, either via the main installer or by tricking the user via the LnkProxy technique, the Agent unpacks its configuration file into memory. Next, the Agent checks to see if there is already a version of PSS installed on the victim’s system by checking for the existence of the storage directory used by the spyware. Depending on the configuration of the current and previous Agents, the Agent may either replace the existing agent or attempt to upgrade the old version. If PSS is not already installed, then the Agent begins installation.

The Agent creates its main storage directory at %CommonAppData%\Profile. Then, it writes its configuration file into the storage directory, using a name defined in the configuration file (versions 4.x and 5.x use the filename diskdrv.dll, while version 6.x uses igfxcls.cfg). The Agent then copies itself into the storage directory (versions 4.x and 5.x use the filename crisvc.exe for the agent, while version 6.x use the filename igfxcri.exe) while deleting the dropped copy from %TEMP%\Profile.

Next, the Agent unpacks and drops 32- and 64-bit versions of the PipeServer component into the storage directory. These files are named mssvt.dll and mssvt64.dll across all versions of PSS that we have analyzed.

After it has created the necessary files, the spyware sets up its persistence mechanism by infecting copies of certain DLLs on the system with the Payload DLL (which is not saved to disk as a standalone file). The infected copies are placed in the same folder as the executable that will load them, ensuring that the infected DLLs are loaded instead of their legitimate counterparts that may be in other folders (Windows will search the folder containing the application first). The DLLs we saw chosen for infection are related to common web browsers including Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. Since web browsers are some of the most commonly used applications on computers, these DLLs are a good choice to ensure that the spyware is running most of the time that the target device is being used.

Finally, the spyware initializes the appropriate PipeServer component by creating a new Desktop, referred to as a “HiddenDesktop” by the spyware and launching one or more of the EXEs whose DLLs have been replaced with infected versions on this new desktop. When an infected DLL is loaded (Section 5.6), it launches the PipeServer if not already running; the PipeServer in turn launches the Agent if not already running. The Agent then enters into its main command handling loop.

7.3. Obfuscation

The first version of the spyware we analyzed (4.3.3) stored most components as either plaintext data or as zlib compressed binary data. Version 5.x of PSS introduced the additional use of AES-256-CBC encryption for the components. Components obfuscated in this manner contain a short header struct followed by the AES-256-CBC encrypted, zlib compressed data:

struct HEADER {
char[6]: magic_number
uint32:  iv
uint32:  checksum
uint32:  length
}

In this header struct, magic_number is the magic_number for a 7z file [0x37, 0x7a, 0xbc, 0xaf, 0x27, 0x1c], iv is the first 4 bytes of the initialization vector used in the AES cipher, checksum is a CRC32 checksum of the data, and length is the length of the encrypted data. The initialization vector is padded with null bytes to the correct length for the AES-256-CBC cipher. Version 6.x added an additional data format for AES-256-CBC encrypted data that removes the magic_number. For all versions, the AES key is hardcoded in the executable performing the decryption. Beginning with version 6.x, the spyware additionally began to obfuscate strings, deobfuscating them only when needed.

Version 4.x drops all of its various components directly to disk in an unpacked form when installed. Starting with version 5.x, the spyware began to drop intermediate loader executables instead of final components. These loader executables store a component, often the Agent, in the same AES-256-CBC encrypted, zlib compressed format as above. When executed, these loaders mimic the Windows executable loader by unpacking their stored payload, mapping the unpacked PE file’s sections into memory, and resolving any imports before jumping to the PE’s entrypoint. This technique of storing the unpacked component only in memory is likely an attempt to evade static, file-based analysis and detection techniques.

Within the Agent component, the configuration file is an SQLite database obfuscated using bzip compression, followed by XOR encryption using both the current and previous bytes, along with one byte from the key. This obfuscation format, and an unusual 36-byte XOR key, the string DC615DA9-94B5-4477-9C33-3A393BC9E63F, are shared across all the samples we analyzed.

7.4. The Agent

The Agent is the central component of the spyware and is responsible for carrying out most of the behavior of PSS. The Agent is a feature-rich spyware capable of a wide range of behaviors. Across all samples we analyzed, we have seen the following capabilities:

  • Audio/Video recording including scheduling recordings for a later time
  • Reading browser history and stored passwords
  • Filesystem operations including creating, deleting, moving, renaming, uploading, and downloading files
  • Editing/Querying registry keys
  • Geolocation based on available wifi networks
  • Accessing Skype databases, call logs, and contacts
  • Listing network connections and devices
  • Starting/Stopping processes
  • Taking screenshots
  • Keylogging
  • Accessing clipboard data
  • Accessing recently used file list

7.5. LnkProxy

The LnkProxy component is only used when the spyware is initially installed without Administrator privileges. In this scenario, the spyware searches through the Windows Desktop, Start Menu, and Quick Launch folders looking for lnk and exe files. Any files it finds are replaced with malicious copies designed to request administrator privileges, launch the legitimate application, and then launch the spyware. This process is designed to trick the user into giving PSS administrator privileges.

The LnkProxy makes a backup of all replaced files, which are restored upon spyware uninstallation or when the user unwittingly grants the spyware administrator privileges.

7.6. Payload DLL

The Payload component of the spyware is a short DLL that is used to infect whitelisted DLLs on the victim’s system as a persistence mechanism. During installation, the spyware searches the victim’s computer for targeted DLLs and for each that it finds it appends the Payload component to the targeted DLL’s .text section. The entrypoint of the DLL is then changed to point to this appended code and the infected file is copied to the same directory as the application that uses the DLL. This ensures that the infected DLL is loaded by the application instead of the original, uninfected version. Figure 11 shows an example of a modified binary infected with the Payload component.


Figure 11: Comparison of entrypoint before and after Payload infection.

The infected DLL starts by checking to ensure that the infected DLL is being loaded by the target program only. It does this by calling the original entrypoint for the infected DLL to get the ImagePathName field of the ProcessParameters struct in the Process Environment Block (PEB). The ImagePathName contains the path of the currently running executable. This is then compared to a hardcoded checksum value stored in the DLL as part of the infection process.

If this check succeeds, the Payload then performs its functions. It first checks to see if the PipeServer is currently loaded. It does this by decrypting an XOR-encrypted string in the DLL containing the location of the PipeServer component, calculating a checksum of this string, and then walking the InMemoryOrder list of loaded modules, checksumming the ImagePathName of each and comparing it to the checksum of the PipeServer’s path. If the PipeServer is not currently loaded, the infected DLL loads the PipeServer component and transfers execution to it.

7.7. PipeServer

The PipeServer component starts by unpacking and loading a small configuration file. This is a small file containing ASCII strings separated by \x00’s that define various config options used by the PipeServer. In version 6.x, this file is zlib compressed and encrypted using AES-256-CBC. After loading the configuration file, the PipeServer creates a series of threads, global events, and mutexes that are used to synchronize actions between components of the spyware, log messages, and communicate with the command and control server. Next, the PipeServer creates a named pipe for communication with running Agent components. Finally, the PipeServer starts an instance of the Agent if one is not already active before entering a main command handling loop. The spyware uses a XML-based networking protocol for command and control communication. Each request and response is sent as a “transaction.” An example of the XML format used is given below.

<?xml version=”1.0″>
<transaction
type=”fromagent”
agentid=”<ID>”
sn=”<NUM>”
crc=”<CRC>”
encoding=”base64″
encryption=”aes-256″
compression=”<zip|none>”>
<DATA>
</transaction>

DATA is the information to be communicated and is compressed, encrypted, and encoded as described in the response attributes. The AES key used can be either a master key included in the Agent’s configuration or an individual private key created after the malware has been installed and initialized. The master key is hard-coded and is the same across all samples we analyzed.

8. Conclusion

We have uncovered the use of PC Surveillance System (PSS) spyware by what appears to be agencies of the Ethiopian government to target dozens of individuals. Our investigation shows these targets include an Oromo media outlet based in the United States, OMN, a PhD student, and a lawyer who have worked on Oromo issues, as well as a Citizen Lab Research Fellow, Bill Marczak. Our analysis also indicates apparent demonstrations of the spyware in several other countries where leaders have exhibited authoritarian tendencies, and/or where there are political corruption and accountability challenges, such as Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda, Uzbekistan, and Zambia.

The habitual misuse of spyware by the Ethiopian government against civil society targets is testament to the lack of repercussions for such behavior by states and complicity within the commercial spyware industry that supplies them. Evidence indicating the Ethiopian government’s misuse of spyware (including Hacking Team’s RCS and Gamma Group’s FinSpy) against journalists, activists, and others has been laid out in prior research over multiple years, as well as in a lawsuit filed in US federal court. In a portentous ruling, that suit was dismissed on grounds that a tort is not committed entirely in the US — a showing of which was required to obtain jurisdiction over a foreign sovereign — when a government’s digital espionage is conceived of and operated from overseas, despite the fact that the infection occurs and harm is experienced within the US. The digital nature of the tort essentially allowed a foreign government to violate US laws with impunity. Unsurprisingly, as this report makes clear, the extraterritorial targeting continues, as do spyware sales to Ethiopia.

This report also uncovers another player in the nation-state spyware business: Cyberbit, the company that provides PSS. As a provider of powerful surveillance technology, Cyberbit has the responsibility under both Israel’s export control regime as well as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to concern itself with the potential for human rights abuses facilitated through use of its product. The fact that PSS wound up in the hands of Ethiopian government agencies, which for many years have demonstrably misused spyware to target civil society, raises urgent questions around Cyberbit’s corporate social responsibility and due diligence efforts, and the effectiveness of Israel’s export controls in preventing human rights abuses. The apparent locations of PSS demonstrations reinforce those concerns. Moreover, the manner in which the PSS spyware operates suggests that, to achieve infection, the spyware preys on user trust in legitimate third-party companies and software, such as Adobe Systems, or the code-signing certificate verification process. These techniques undermine security in the larger digital ecosystem and contravene terms of service as well as clear legal standards that exist in many jurisdictions to prevent appropriation of intellectual property. If spyware companies themselves incorporate such techniques in order to build a successful product, action is necessary to address the negative externalities that result. We have sent a letter to Cyberbit regarding these issues and received a response.

As we explore in a separate analysis, while lawful access and intercept tools have legitimate uses, the significant insecurities and illegitimate targeting we have documented that arise from their abuse cannot be ignored. In the absence of stronger norms and incentives to induce state restraint, as well as more robust regulation of spyware companies, we expect that authoritarian and other politically corrupt leaders will continue to obtain and use spyware to covertly surveil and invisibly sabotage the individuals and institutions that hold them to account.

9. Acknowledgements

This work was supported in part by the Center for Long Term Cybersecurity (CLTC) at UC Berkeley. Thanks also to Erik Zouave, Masashi Crete-Nishihata, Lex Gill, Etienne Maynier, Adam Senft, Miles Kenyon, Jawar Mohammed, Etana Habte, Henok Gabisa, and Felix Horne and Cynthia Wong from Human Rights Watch.

Footnotes

  1. We found these materials in a Google search. The materials are hosted in an Amazon S3 bucket whose name is cyberbit. Inspecting the source code of Cyberbit’s website (https://web.archive.org/web/20170930094240/https://www.cyberbit.com/) yields several references to the same S3 bucket.  Thus, we assume Cyberbit controls the S3 bucket named cyberbit and that the marketing materials are Cyberbit originals.
  2. In January 2016, Cyberbit attempted to convince the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center to transfer the domain to it from Cyberbit A/S, but the panel refused and declared that Cyberbit had engaged in reverse domain name hijacking by bringing its complaint in bad faith. However, Cyberbit apparently purchased the domain in March 2017, judging by WHOIS records.
  3. We redact the domain names of non-Ethiopia servers that are still online.
  4. e.g., https://web.archive.org/web/20150710202350/http://www.thewhistleblowers.org:80/?cat=3874

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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/ .

Internet: connectivity is the cornerstone to the development of digital economy in Africa March 31, 2017

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How Connectivity Can Change the Future for African Countries


 Media Planet– In an increasingly global world, one of the most important assets for people can be narrowed down to one thing: connectivity. The direct and indirect impacts of connectivity for parts of the world that are struggling economically cannot be overstated, and organizations like Huawei, a network and telecommunications company, are driving growth in African markets, particularly in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.

CONNECTED: In Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania in East Africa, individuals travel to internet cafes to get online.

Helping the economy

“Growing evidence suggests that broadband can boost GDP incomes, helping combat poverty and hunger,” says Phoebe Huang, public affairs manager for Huawei in Africa. “The innovation efficiency of countries with higher broadband penetration is 15 times that of countries with lower broadband penetration. Broadband development also influences productivity: specifically, it can lead to an increase of 5 percent in manufacturing, 20 percent in information services, and 10 percent in services. In addition, broadband development will create more job opportunities. A 10 percent increase in broadband penetration increases the employment rate by 2 to 3 percent.”

The value of connectivity, particularly in developing countries, is multifactorial and significant. For instance, the ability to access the internet and connect with others allows children to study, health care professionals to communicate, and the public to keep informed on important local developments. It has the ability to foster ideas, collaboration and growth. A technology infrastructure is also a job creator; not only are workers needed to manage retail sales, there’s a whole system of building and maintenance created once a geographical area is more connected.

Creating new jobs

“Huawei has been in Africa for more than 17 years, so we really see ourselves as an African company. We have created thousands of jobs — today we have more than 7,000 employees in Africa,” says Roland Sladek, vice president of international media affairs at Huawei.

“We hope to bridge the digital divide and build a better connected world. We are focused on connecting people to people, people to things and things to things. We are improving the broadband penetration in Africa.”

“We continuously leverage our global innovation capabilities and cooperate with governments,
customers and industrial partners to increase the telecom network coverage significantly to achieve a win-win cooperation,” says Huang. “We believe that connectivity is the cornerstone to the development of digital economy in Africa.”

A long-term investment

Sladek believes that now is a key time to address the need for this connectivity; it
has never been as cost effective as it is now to create high quality, yet affordable devices.

“We are today the third-largest smartphone vendor in the world — we’ve launched some really cutting-edge models,” says Sladek. “Africa is an important market, first because it’s one of the fastest growing smartphone markets in the world, and secondly because there’s a rising middle class in Africa who want a good phone for a good price. African consumers also tend to be more open-minded regarding brands — they’re not wedded to Apple, for instance.”

Investing into telecommunications networks is a long-term commitment, and more and more countries are not only aware of this commitment — they see it as a long-term goal, even keeping in mind that some economies may be growing slower than they have previously due to external factors. In spite of this fact, by 2020 mobile data traffic in Africa is expected to increase by at least 15 times in high traffic areas.

“We hope to bridge the digital divide and build a better connected world,” says Huang. “We are focused on connecting people to people, people to things and things to things. We are improving the broadband penetration in Africa.”

“If you don’t invest today in your own telecomm infrastructure network, tomorrow you will have no business,” says Sladek. “Huawei lays today the foundation of Africa’s future.”


 

Violence Against Free Media and Knowledge Dissemination in Ethiopia: An Analysis of the Mechanisms of Restrictions on Information Flow January 3, 2017

Posted by OromianEconomist in #OromoProtests, Human Rights.
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Violence Against Free Media and Knowledge Dissemination in Ethiopia: An Analysis of the Mechanisms of Restrictions on Information Flow

By Habtamu Dugo, Visiting Professor of Communications,
University of the District of Columbia

hab.dugo@gmail.com


Abstract

This article examines multiple mechanisms the Ethiopian state has been using to implement information blackout throughout the country in order to distort, misrepresent, hide and deny massive human rights infractions perpetrated by the military against citizens demanding self-government, basic rights and justice across Oromia state and Ethiopia. The data for this research were obtained through multiple research approaches, which included reviewing three relevant Ethiopian laws that justify information blackout; reviewing reports by human rights organizations; reviewing news stories on the topic in multiple languages; and reviewing audio-visual materials containing press releases from Ethiopian authorities. The study finds that the Ethiopian government has used a mixture of mechanisms to restrict the free flow of information by: introducing a slew of draconian proclamations, resorting to suppressing and removing communications applications and hardware and engaging in robust local and global misinformation and denial campaigns in times of unprecedented domestic political upheavals.

Key words: press freedom, freedom of speech, media control, social media control, information blackout, state-led violence, Oromo, Ethiopia, East Africa, Horn of Africa.

Introduction

In the summer of 2014 Ethiopian government police, security forces and commando units shot live ammunitions into crowds of peaceful protesters killing at least 100 (OP, 2014). The protesters were opposed to a city planning scheme known as the Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan (IDMP). By the time this plan was released, Addis Ababa’s expansion had already displaced 150, 000 families of Oromo farmers and was set to displace millions more across Oromia (Legesse, 2014).

Demonstrators demanded that the IDMP be halted immediately and the Oromo people’s constitutional right to self-rule be respected. The Ethiopian government did not respond to the popular demands. Instead, authorities promised massive violence against civilians in an attempt to continue the implementation of the draconian plan (Biyyaa, 2014), characterized by the Oromo as “master killer.”

In a compressive study released in 2014, Amnesty International (2014) reported that between 2011 and 2015, “at least 5000 Oromos have been arrested based on their actual or suspected peaceful opposition to the government.” The popular understanding of the IDRP among the Oromo is that it will continue to uproot millions of Oromo farmers from their land and lead to the eventual splitting of Oromia into two halves—the east and the west. This will separate the Oromo people who share the same language, identity and a regional state from each other. Even families would be separated as they have been in North and South Korea.

None of the perpetrators of the April and May 2014 massacres were brought to justice nor was there an independent investigation into the mass killings by government security. Instead,some government officials such as Abay Tsehaye, the former Minister of Federal Affairs, threatened to take more actions against anyone who is opposed to the plan (OMN, 2014).

Oromia-wide protests against the IDMP recurred in mid-November 2015 in small town west of the capital city “when the government transferred the ownership of a school playground and a stadium to private investors, in addition to clearing the Chilimo natural forest to also make way for investors,” (AI, 2015). In just over a few weeks, the protests spread to all parts of Oromia, involving people from all walks of life. The government responded with lethal force which resulted in the death of more than 200 people, including children, women and the elderly (HRLHA, 2015). Thousands of Oromos were wholesale labeled as “terrorists”, giving a blank check to government officials and commanders of the security forces to act with impunity. Hundreds were killed, thousands maimed and several thousand imprisoned. The government placed a ban on domestic and international human rights organizations, media, journalists, bloggers and citizen journalists to cover up the use of lethal force to suppress the protests and the staggering number of casualties.

Human Rights Watch noted the government’s tight chokehold on information as follows: “Ethiopia’s pervasive restrictions on independent civil society and media mean that very little information is coming from affected areas although social media are filled with photos and videos of the protests,” (HRW, 2016). This has left the global community in the dark about the real magnitude of the crimes security forces have committed. This paper analyzes the different facets of the Ethiopian government’s restrictions on information flow focusing on actions taken during the Oromo protests of 2015-16.

I contend that the government’s endeavors to create an information blackout was designed to avoid responsibility for the mass killings, maiming, detentions, rape and other crimes that the federal police, the Agazi Special Forces, and other state security units have committed against unarmed Oromo civilians. The study also reveals that the government has used a number of ‘legal’ and coercive strategies and tactics to exercise monopolistic control over information.

Disinformation

One of the ways in which the government uses to conceal its atrocities is the state-controlled media and crackdown on alternative media. With near monopoly on media outlets in the country, top government officials appear on state-controlled television (formerly ETV) and make statements that cannot stand to simply scrutiny. On December 15, 2015, for instance, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn threatened to take “merciless actions” against Oromo protestors whom he labeled “terrorists,” “anti-peace forces” and “destabilizing “forces”. He indicated that the government’s Anti-Terror Task Force will take swift measures to restore order. While the security forces have indeed carried out the orders, the purpose of the threats was to cow people into submission. In other words, the media is used to carry out disinformation battles that parallel the real actions.

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IRIN News: Ethiopia’s internet crackdown hurts everyone November 19, 2016

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Ethiopia’s internet crackdown hurts everyone

IRIN, 17 November 2016


Ethiopia has never been an easy place to operate. But a six-month state of emergency, combined with internet and travel restrictions imposed in response to a wave of anti-government protests, means it just got a whole lot harder.

The government has targeted the mobile data connections that the majority of Ethiopians use to get online. Internet users have also been unable to access Facebook Messenger and Twitter, with a host of other services also rendered unreliable.

This has impacted everyone: from local businesses, to foreign embassies, to families, as well as the extensive and vital international aid community.

“Non-governmental organisations play crucial roles in developing countries, often with country offices in the capitals, satellite offices across remote regions, and parent organisations in foreign countries,” said Moses Karanja, an internet policy researcher at Strathmore University in Nairobi.  “They need access to the internet if their operations are to be efficiently coordinated.”

A political decision

The Ethiopian government has been candid about the restrictions being in response to year-long anti-government protests in which hundreds of people have died.

It has singled out social media as a key factor in driving unrest. Since the beginning of October, there has been a spike in violence resulting in millions of dollars’ worth of damage to foreign-owned factories, government buildings and tourist lodges across Oromia Region, initially ground zero for the dissent.

“Mobile data will be permitted once the government assesses that it won’t threaten the implementation of the state of emergency,” government spokesman Getachew Reda – who has since been replaced – told a 26 October press conference in Addis Ababa.

Security forces
James Jeffrey/IRIN
Security forces ready to crackdown

The Oromo are the country’s largest ethnic group, constituting 35 percent of the country’s nearly 100 million population. They have historically felt ignored by successive regimes in Addis Ababa. In August, similar grassroots protest broke out among the Amhara, Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group. The ruling EPRDF is portrayed by opponents as a narrow, unrepresentative clique that refuses to share power.

Ethiopia is not alone in its approach to political unrest. Around the world, as countries become increasingly integrated with online technology, the more autocratic governments are blocking the internet whenever they deem it necessary.

“The trend appears to be growing because more people are going online and using the internet, often through the use of mobile connections,” said Deji Olukotun of Access Now, which campaigns for digital rights. In 2016, it documented 50 shutdowns, up from less than 20 in 2015.

“People are enjoying the freedom and opportunity that the internet provides, which enables them to organise themselves and advocate for what they want,” Olukotun told IRIN. “In response, governments are shutting down the net to stop this practice.”

Bad timing

An aid worker, who didn’t want to be identified as her agency needs to renew its government permit, explained how she relies on Skype to communicate with far-flung colleagues.

“Before, it was hard enough, but now Skype is even more unreliable,” she said. “People can’t connect with colleagues in the field; people miss invites to meetings, can’t arrange logistics.”

The squeeze comes at a particularly bad time for Ethiopia, beyond the impact of the protest movement. Ten million people are in need of food aid as a result of drought. The Oromia and Amhara regions, where most of the anti-government unrest is happening, have some of the largest numbers of people requiring assistance.

“Websites like the famine early warning system, FEWSNET, which provides detailed regional analysis and projections on food insecurity, cannot be accessed by most stakeholders,” said an international development official.

“Some modern software systems for things like pharmaceutical supply-chain management are not working to their full capacity – making it harder to accurately track inventory and deliveries.”

Phone
Andrew Heavens/Flickr
Careful what you say

Many humanitarian organisations, including UN agencies, are heavily reliant on cash transfers to government organisations that conduct work on their behalf. They are finding it much harder to account for funds.

Another aid worker, again speaking to IRIN on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of operating in Ethiopia, said everything was getting delayed, including the rolling out of new programmes.

“If we can’t email or phone, we can’t find out how money has been spent, and if we can’t account and there’s no transparency, we can’t authorise new spending,” the aid worker said.

Post-truth

The importance of social media to people’s lives in Ethiopia is magnified because they so distrust mainstream media, largely controlled by the EPRDF.

“Many Ethiopians are fed up with local and state media and so they turn to diaspora news,” said Lidetu Ayele, founder of the opposition Ethiopia Democratic Party. “The problem is, a lot of things they’d view as gossip if heard by mouth, when they read about it on social media, they take as fact.”

The worst disaster during Ethiopia’s protests occurred at the beginning of October. After police and protesters clashed at a traditional Oromo festival beside a holy lake, a stampede ensued that left about 100 people drowned or crushed to death.

Social media didn’t hang around. It pulsed with claims a circling government helicopter had fired down into panicking crowds.

“My brother was telling me on the phone he was about to protest, and asking me how I couldn’t after the government had done something like that,” an Addis Ababa resident, who is half Oromo and half Amhara, recalled about the days following the stampede. “But I said to him, ‘Don’t be an idiot, it isn’t true.’”

Witnesses and journalists at the event had confirmed that the circling helicopter was in fact innocently dropping leaflets saying “Happy Irreecha”, the name of the festival.

Loading aid
James Jeffrey/IRIN
Unintended consequences

Policy backfire?

Even before the state of emergency, Ethiopia was one of the most censored countries in the world and a top jailer of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Independent media does exist in Ethiopia, but it struggles. Last month, the Addis Standard, a well-respected private magazine, announced it was stopping its print edition due to the latest round of restrictions.

“The government has created this problem for themselves,” remarked a freelance Ethiopian journalist.

The Ethiopian diaspora in the United States maintains a strong cyber presence and is rallying to the political reform movement. Jawar Mohammed, a particularly prominent US-based social media activist, has 500,000 followers on Facebook, and broadcasts information and footage from protests demanding an end to EPRDF rule.

“The diaspora do amplify what’s happening, but it didn’t start with us,” Jawar said in an interview earlier in 2016.

Internet shutdowns between mid-2015 and mid-2016 have lost the Ethiopian economy about $9 million, according to a recent report by the US-based Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution.

“Internet disruption slows growth, costs governments tax revenue, weakens innovation, and undermines consumer and business confidence in a country’s economy,” said report author Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

“As internet-powered businesses and transactions continue to grow to represent an increasingly significant portion of global economic activity, the damage from connectivity disruptions will become more severe.”

Olukotun of Access Now said such blackouts were particularly damaging for developing countries “striving to embrace the digital economy and innovation”.

“We’ve seen juice sellers, online banks, courier services, and internet companies all lose drastic amounts of money during disruptions,” he said.

But for the ruling party in Ethiopia, a country that has known centralised authoritarian rule for millennia, the concept of ceding any of that control is anathema.

“Censoring the internet is not a solution to the protests or resistance,” said Karanja, the Kenyan researcher. “It is a blockage to the democratic trajectory of a country.”

The Ethiopian government’s systematic repression of independent media January 22, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Censorship, Facebook and Africa, Internet Freedom, The Ethiopian government’s systematic repression of independent media, Uncategorized.
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Ethiopia’s media landscape is heavily state-controlled, and dominated by Amharic-language publications and broadcasts focused on events and issues in the capital, Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority has regulatory authority over all media licensing and content for print publications and television and radio stations. It is accountable to the information ministry, which in 2008 was renamed the Government Communications Affairs Office.[10]

Ethiopia’s sole television broadcaster is the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC, formerly known as ETV) and its regional affiliates. Satellite television is increasingly common with Al-Jazeera and BBC World News drawing significant numbers of viewers, particularly in Addis Ababa. Two diaspora-run television networks, Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and Oromia Media Network (OMN), are increasingly popular.

The 81 percent of Ethiopians who live in rural areas[11] are largely dependent on state-controlled radio and television broadcasts, particularly radio.[12] The few private licensed radio stations tend to steer clear of politics and sensitive content and focus on issues such as sports or entertainment.

Print publications are almost exclusively in Amharic, focus heavily on Addis Ababa, and are usually only available in major cities.[13] According to one source, 49 percent of respondents in Addis Ababa read newspapers, but only 9 percent of respondents in Oromia region and 14 percent in Amhara region do.[14]

“In March 2014 the diaspora-run Oromia Media Network began operating. OMN is a private satellite television channel that focuses on news and analysis of events in Oromia region, Ethiopia, and the greater Horn of Africa.[66] Government officials have subsequently threatened viewers and harassed individuals who have provided information to OMN. An independent documentary filmmaker said he was threatened by security personnel after being contacted by a high-profile individual within OMN to ask for technical advice: I was called by security personnel to come to the local council office where they told me, “There is much data that is going to OMN, all of this data must be coming from you, you are giving technical support to OMN. Since they are terrorists, you are assisting terrorists. We understand what you are doing, if you do not stop it will be your end.” I had only communicated via phone with OMN but I stopped communication at that time because I was afraid, but the harassment continued from security officials.”

http://www.hrw.org/reports/2015/01/20/journalism-not-crime

 

Legal, Policy Reforms Crucial Prior to May Elections
Human Rights Watch, 22nd January 2015
HRW Media

(Nairobi) – The Ethiopian government’s systematic repression of independent media has created a bleak landscape for free expression ahead of the May 2015 general elections, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. In the past year, six privately owned publications closed after government harassment; at least 22 journalists, bloggers, and publishers were criminally charged, and more than 30 journalists fled the country in fear of being arrested under repressive laws.

The 76-page report, “‘Journalism is Not a Crime’: Violations of Media Freedom in Ethiopia,” details how the Ethiopian government has curtailed independent reporting since 2010. Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 70 current and exiled journalists between May 2013 and December 2014, and found patterns of government abuses against journalists that resulted in 19 being imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression, and that have forced at least 60 others into exile since 2010.

Ethiopia’s government has systematically assaulted the country’s independent voices, treating the media as a threat rather than a valued source of information and analysis,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director. “Ethiopia’s media should be playing a crucial role in the May elections, but instead many journalists fear that their next article could get them thrown in jail.”

Most of Ethiopia’s print, television, and radio outlets are state-controlled, and the few private print media often self-censor their coverage of politically sensitive issues for fear of being shut down.

The six independent print publications that closed in 2014 did so after a lengthy campaign of intimidation that included documentaries on state-run television that alleged the publications were linked to terrorist groups. The intimidation also included harassment and threats against staff, pressure on printers and distributors, regulatory delays, and eventually criminal charges against the editors. Dozens of staff members went into exile. Three of the owners were convicted under the criminal code and sentenced in absentia to more than three years in prison. The evidence the prosecution presented against them consisted of articles that criticized government policies.

While the plight of a few high-profile Ethiopian journalists has become widely known, dozens more in Addis Ababa and in rural regions have suffered systematic abuses at the hands of security officials.

The threats against journalists often take a similar course. Journalists who publish a critical article might receive threatening telephone calls, text messages, and visits from security officials and ruling party cadres. Some said they received hundreds of these threats. If this does not silence them or intimidate them into self-censorship, then the threats intensify and arrests often follow. The courts have shown little or no independence in criminal cases against journalists who have been convicted after unfair trials and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, often on terrorism-related charges.

“Muzzling independent voices through trumped-up criminal charges and harassment is making Ethiopia one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists,” Lefkow said. “The government should immediately release those wrongly imprisoned and reform laws to protect media freedom.”

Most radio and television stations in Ethiopia are government-affiliated, rarely stray from the government position, and tend to promote government policies and tout development successes. Control of radio is crucial politically given that more than 80 percent of Ethiopia’s population lives in rural areas, where the radio is still the main medium for news and information. The few private radio stations that cover political events are subjected to editing and approval requirements by local government officials. Broadcasters who deviate from approved content have been harassed, detained, and in many cases forced into exile.

The government has also frequently jammed broadcasts and blocked the websites of foreign and diaspora-based radio and television stations. Staff working for broadcasters face repeated threats and harassment, as well as intimidation of their sources or people interviewed on international media outlets. Even people watching or listening to these services have been arrested.

The government has also used a variety of more subtle but effective administrative and regulatory restrictions such as hampering efforts to form journalist associations, delaying permits and renewals of private publications, putting pressure on the few printing presses and distributors, and linking employment in state media to ruling party membership.

Social media are also heavily restricted, and many blog sites and websites run by Ethiopians in the diaspora areblocked inside Ethiopia. In April, the authorities arrested six people from Zone 9, a blogging collective that provides commentary on social, political, and other events of interest to young Ethiopians, and charged them under the country’s counterterrorism law and criminal code. Their trial, along with other media figures, has been fraught with various due process concerns. On January 14, 2015, it was adjourned for the 16th time and they have now been jailed for over 260 days. The arrest and prosecution of the Zone 9 bloggers has had a wider chilling effect on freedom of expression in Ethiopia, especially among critically minded bloggers and online activists.

The increased media repression will clearly affect the media landscape for the May elections,.

“The government still has time to make significant reforms that would improve media freedoms before the May elections,” Lefkow said. “Amending oppressive laws and freeing jailed journalists do not require significant time or resources, but only the political will for reform.”

Read at: http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/21/ethiopia-media-being-decimated

 

Journalism is not  a crime

Summary

Ever since the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won 99.6 percent of parliamentary seats in the 2010 elections, the government of Ethiopia has escalated its repression of the independent media, limiting the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. At least 60 journalists have fled their country since 2010 while at least another 19 languish in prison. The government has shut down dozens of publications and controls most television and most radio outlets, leaving few options for Ethiopians to acquire independent information and analysis on domestic political issues. With elections scheduled for May 2015, the media could be playing a key role educating and informing the public on the issues, and providing public forums for debate. But the ruling party has treated the private media as a threat to its hegemony, and is using various techniques to decimate private media, independent reporting, and critical analysis, with drastic results.

Ethiopia now has the most journalists in exile of any country in the world other than Iran, according to Committee to Protect Journalists’ statistics and Human Rights Watch research. Under repressive laws, the authorities frequently charge and the courts invariably convict journalists for their reports and commentaries on events and issues. Individuals like Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu have come to symbolize the plight of dozens more media professionals, both known and unidentified, in Addis Ababa and in rural regions, who have suffered threats, intimidation, sometimes physical abuse, and politically motivated prosecutions under criminal or terrorism charges. Their trials are fraught with due process violations and the courts have demonstrated little independence in the adjudication of their cases.

Most print publications in Ethiopia are closely affiliated with the government and rarely stray from government perspectives on critical issues. Private print publications face numerous regulatory challenges and regular harassment from security personnel. Publications critical of government are regularly shut down, and printers and distributors of critical publications are closed. Journalists critical of government policies and their families live in constant fear of harassment, arrest, and losing their livelihoods. The state controls most of the media, and the few surviving private media self-censor their coverage of politically sensitive issues for fear of being shut down.

This report documents the strategies used by the Ethiopian government to control independent reporting and analysis and restrict access to information. Based on more than 70 interviews with current and former journalists and media professionals, the report describes the dire state of Ethiopia’s media and the resulting impact on freedom of expression and the media.

Despite international outcry over the most publicized cases, the Ethiopian government shows no sign of greater tolerance of independent media voices as the crackdown against independent media escalated in 2014. Ten journalists and bloggers joined the list of journalists under prosecution and five magazines and one newspaper were shut down after a government campaign of threats and intimidation. The campaign included programs on state-run television portraying the publications as supporters of terrorism, harassment of the printing presses that printed the publications, government interference in distribution of publications, and numerous threats from security officials. This culminated in dozens of journalists and several owners of these publications fleeing Ethiopia and criminal charges against the owners. Courts have sentenced three owners in absentia each to more than three years in prison, without any real evidence being presented other than articles that criticized government policies. The trials of the other owners continue.

But beyond the more newsworthy arrests, the government has used various other pernicious yet more subtle techniques to stifle and silence the media. Security personnel subject journalists who write about sensitive political issues to regular threats and harassment. These threats often extend beyond the journalists to their families and friends. Those who do not censor their coverage following warnings are often arbitrarily detained, usually without charge, and threatened and harassed. Outside of Addis Ababa, mistreatment and beatings of journalists in detention are common and are often followed by criminal charges. Many longtime private journalists have been detained numerous times and have received hundreds of threats from security officials, ruling party cadres, and officials from Ethiopia’s ministry of information, now called the Government Communications Affairs Office (GCAO).

The net effect is that Ethiopian journalists have to make the difficult decision between self-censoring their coverage to promote the ruling party’s agenda or providing reporting or commentary that may put them and their families in danger.

In addition to threats against individual journalists, the authorities use various means to stymie the private printing presses where independent media owners print their publications. The state-owned printer, which is the only printing press with the capacity to print newspapers regularly, delays or refuses to print private publications—in one case burning 40,000 copies of a newspaper that published reports the government considered critical. Security personnel are also increasingly targeting and threatening distributors of private publications. Increasingly journalists’ sources are being targeted and individuals are more and more afraid to speak to the media.

Government has stifled attempts to organize independent journalist associations, and security officials conduct extensive background checks into the political affiliations of private publications. The authorities routinely delay required permits and renewals for private publications deemed less than fully supportive of the government and ruling party.

New media has not fared much better. Many blog sites and websites being run by Ethiopians in the diaspora are blocked inside Ethiopia. In 2014, bloggers from Zone 9, a blogging collective that provides commentary on current events in Ethiopia, were charged under the anti-terrorism law and the criminal code after spending 80 days in pre-charge detention. Among the evidence the prosecution cited in its charge sheets was digital security training the bloggers took through Tactical Technology Collective, an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) that provides activists with tools to protect their privacy online. The arrest and prosecutions of the Zone 9 bloggers has had a wider chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country, elevating the level of fear among bloggers and online activists who increasingly fear posting critical commentary on Facebook or other social media platforms.

The picture for radio and television broadcasting is similar. Most of the country’s radio and television stations are state-run and do not offer independent news coverage and analysis. This is critically important given that over 80 percent of Ethiopia’s population lives in rural areas, where the radio is still the main medium to acquire news and information. The few private radio stations that cover political events told Human Rights Watch that local government officials have had to edit and approve their programs days before they are aired. Broadcasters who deviate from the approved content had to contend with detention and harassment by government officials.

Rather than face a life of constant harassment and fear, many journalists choose to work for one of the state-affiliated publications. Some walk the fine line of being as critical as they can be without upsetting the authorities, while others are content to churn out the government propaganda promoting and exaggerating the government’s development successes. Membership in the EPRDF is often a requirement for upward mobility in these publications.

Foreign media has a limited presence in Ethiopia. Both Voice of America (VOA) and Deutsche Welle (DW) join several Ethiopian diaspora stations in providing television and radio coverage. However, the government has used various strategies to limit their domestic audience including jamming of their signals, constant threats and harassment of their staff and their sources, and most recently the targeting and arrest of individuals who are watching or listening to the diaspora-based services.

Since the 2009 enactment of the Charities and Societies Proclamation, independent civil society has largely been eviscerated while severe restrictions on the remaining opposition political parties make a vibrant and independent media sector all the more important for participation in governance and greater respect for human rights in the country. Unfortunately, what little space there was for independent coverage and analysis of news and political events has shrunk even further in 2014. The opportunity for Ethiopian citizens to access different political perspectives and analysis leading up to the May 2015 elections is bleak.

Still, much can be done to improve the media situation in Ethiopia in both the short and long-term. As a first step, the government should immediately drop charges and release detained and convicted journalists and bloggers. Ethiopia’s leaders should realize that a vibrant and independent media contributes to the country’s development. As such, in the coming weeks and months, the government should amend repressive laws used to target the media, including the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Authorities should also ensure that both law and practice are in line with Ethiopia’s constitution and international standards.

Recommendations

To the Government of Ethiopia

  • Immediately drop all charges and release all journalists and bloggers arbitrarily detained and prosecuted under the criminal code or anti-terrorism law.
  • Repeal or substantially amend the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation so that they comply with the right to freedom of expression under Ethiopia’s constitution and regional and international human rights law.
  • Amend article 613 of the criminal code to remove criminal penalties for defamation.
  • Limit government ownership over the print and broadcast media, and take legislative and policy measures, including the removal of barriers to private ownership, that encourage an independent and vibrant private media.
  • Streamline and depoliticize regulatory processes for new publications and radio stations. Regulatory agencies should be independent and administratively and functionally separate from the state security apparatus and the Government Communications Affairs Office.
  • Implement reforms to ensure the independence of the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA).
  • Eliminate restrictions on the right to freedom of movement of domestic and foreign journalists throughout Ethiopia, including in areas where serious human rights abuses are allegedly occurring. Instruct police and security personnel to permit freedom of movement of the press. Discipline any officer, regardless of rank, for restricting movement of journalists through threat, harassment, or detention.
  • Cease blocking and censoring the websites of political parties, media, and bloggers, and publicly commit not to block such websites in the future.
  • Cease jamming radio and television stations and publicly commit not to jam radio and television stations in the future.
  • Extend an invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression to visit Ethiopia to evaluate the media environment for private print and electronic media and to examine the situation of imprisoned journalists.

To Ethiopia’s International Donors, including European Union States and the United States

  • Publicly call and privately press for the release of all journalists and bloggers arbitrarily detained and prosecuted under the criminal code or anti-terrorism law.
  • Improve and increase monitoring of trials of journalists and other media professionals to ensure trials meet international fair trial standards.
  • Seek access to prisons and detention centers to monitor the conditions of imprisoned journalists and bloggers.
  • Publicly and privately raise with government officials concerns about freedom of expression and how these human rights violations may undermine development and security priorities.
  • Provide support for improving the capacity and professionalism of Ethiopia’s media, including the creation of independent journalism associations. Ensure that there are specific opportunities available for journalists with private publications and make special effort to include initiatives aimed at improving media capacity outside of Addis Ababa.
  • Support efforts to ensure independent newspapers and other publications have access to printing facilities that are not government owned or controlled.

To All State-Owned or State-Affiliated Printing Houses

  • Impartially print all licensed private publications in an appropriate timeframe and manner consistent with timelines for state-affiliated publications.

To Foreign Radio and Television Operators in Ethiopia

  • Strengthen procedures for identifying sources that are at particular risk and develop mitigation measures for those sources. This could include consistent use of techniques such as anonymizing the identity of the individual, keeping identities confidential, and making high-profile individuals aware of the risks.

To the Governments of Kenya, South Sudan, and Uganda

  • Ensure that asylum seekers, including journalists and other media professionals applying for asylum, receive prompt processing of their applications and protection from targeted threats.

Methodology

This report, on the Ethiopian government’s strategies to control independent reporting and analysis and restrict access to information, is based on research conducted between May 2013 and December 2014 in Ethiopia and three other countries.

Over 70 individuals were interviewed, including victims of human rights violations, current and former journalists, other media professionals, and former government officials. Interviews focused on the interviewee’s experiences since the May 2010 elections. All were interviewed individually. Interviews were carried out either in person or via telephone. Interviewees included people from both private and state-affiliated publications and a wide range of backgrounds, age, ethnicity, urban, rural, and geographic origin in order to get as broad a perspective as possible.

Interviews were conducted in English or with interpretation from Afan Oromo, Amharic, or various Ethiopian local languages into English. Several interpreters were used. Human Rights Watch took various precautions to verify the credibility of interviewees’ statements. None of the interviewees were offered any form of compensation and all interviewees were informed of the purpose of the interview and its voluntary nature, including their right to stop the interview at any point. They all gave informed consent to be interviewed.

In addition to interviews, Human Rights Watch consulted court documents and various secondary material, including academic articles and reports from nongovernmental organizations, that corroborate details or patterns of abuses described in the report. This material includes previous Human Rights Watch research as well as information collected by other credible experts and independent human rights investigators. All the information in this report was based on at least two and usually more than two independent sources,including both interviews and secondary material.

In part because the Ethiopian government restricts human rights research in the country, this report is not a comprehensive assessment of the media freedom situation in Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch and other independent national and international human rights organizations face extraordinary challenges in carrying out investigations in Ethiopia given the government’s hostility towards human rights investigation and reporting. As a result it is extremely difficult to assure the safety and confidentiality of victims of human rights abuses. Increasingly, the families of individuals outside of Ethiopia who provide information can also be at risk of reprisals. Ethiopian journalists and other individuals also face significant security and protection challenges in neighboring Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, and Somaliland.

The Ethiopian government routinely denies allegations of serious human rights violations and has regularly sought to identify the victims and witnesses providing information published in human rights reports. In the past the authorities have harassed and detained individuals for providing information to, or meeting with, international human rights investigators, journalists, and others. This heightens concerns that any form of involvement with Human Rights Watch, including speaking to the organization, could be used against individuals, including in politically motivated prosecutions.

Human Rights Watch conducted research for this report inside Ethiopia, but many of the victims were interviewed outside of the country, making it easier for them to speak openly about their experiences. Given concerns for their protection and and the possiblity of reprisals against family members, all names and identifying information of interviewees have been removed, and locations of interviews withheld where such information could suggest someone’s identity. In certain cases, pertinent information has been omitted altogether because of concerns that disclosing that information would reveal the identity of interviewees.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the government of Ethiopia on December 12, 2014, to share the findings of this report and to request input on those findings. No response was received from the government.

I. Background

Ethiopia has some history of a free press. When the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition came to power in 1991, the media environment was quickly liberalized, in contrast to the situation during the ousted Derg regime.[1] The end of censorship prompted a vibrant free press, but the relationship between the government and the new private press quickly soured in the early 1990s as the media voiced criticism of government policy, particularly on perennially sensitive political issues such as the right to self-determination of Ethiopia’s regions, land tenure, and ethnic representation in government.[2] Dozens of journalists were arrested and accused of publishing false information or violating other provisions of the 1992 press law, which allowed government authorities to detain journalists without charge.[3]

The Ethiopian government relaxed media restrictions ahead of the 2005 elections,[4] but the opening was brief. The election results sparked controversy, protests, and a bloody government crackdown. Up to 200 people were killed, tens of thousands of people were detained, and scores of opposition leaders, journalists, and human rights activists were arrested. Six publishing houses and more than 20 journalists, many of them connected to the publishing houses, were among a group of more than 120 people charged in December 2005 and prosecuted in 2006 and 2007 for “outrages against the constitution” and other crimes, a number of them in absentia.[5]

The impact of the 2005 election controversy on Ethiopia’s media—and on every facet of political and associational activity—has been dramatic. Since 2005 the government has reinforced its strategy to manage and control information flows, including the media, and ensure that its policies are promoted but not critiqued. The government periodically jams radio broadcasts and uses other means to control access to information to the rural audience, which largely depends on radio for information. But events of the past few years show that even the relative tolerance in urban areas like Addis Ababa for greater access to information and media diversity is dwindling.

Since 2008 the government has passed laws to systematically restrict the press. In July 2008 Ethiopia’s parliament adopted the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation. The law made some positive changes from the previous media law, such as barring the pre-trial detention of journalists, but it added alarming new features, including broad powers to initiate defamation suits and to demand corrections in print publications.[6] In July 2009 parliament passed the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which has been used extensively against the media, both directly and indirectly.

Independent print journalism took a massive blow in December 2009 when Addis Neger, one of the largest independent Amharic weekly newspapers, was forced to close following a campaign of threats and harassment that resulted in most of its senior staff fleeing Ethiopia.[7] The government claimed that Addis Neger had ulterior political motives, while the European Union and the United States embassy in Ethiopia both expressed concern over the declining media space, shortly after Addis Neger ceased publication.[8]

Five months later federal elections were held in an atmosphere of complete ruling party control, resulting in the EPRDF coalition winning 99.6 percent of parliamentary seats.[9]

II. Ethiopia’s Media Landscape

Ethiopia’s media landscape is heavily state-controlled, and dominated by Amharic-language publications and broadcasts focused on events and issues in the capital, Addis Ababa. The Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority has regulatory authority over all media licensing and content for print publications and television and radio stations. It is accountable to the information ministry, which in 2008 was renamed the Government Communications Affairs Office.[10]

Ethiopia’s sole television broadcaster is the state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC, formerly known as ETV) and its regional affiliates. Satellite television is increasingly common with Al-Jazeera and BBC World News drawing significant numbers of viewers, particularly in Addis Ababa. Two diaspora-run television networks, Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and Oromia Media Network (OMN), are increasingly popular.

The 81 percent of Ethiopians who live in rural areas[11] are largely dependent on state-controlled radio and television broadcasts, particularly radio.[12] The few private licensed radio stations tend to steer clear of politics and sensitive content and focus on issues such as sports or entertainment.

Print publications are almost exclusively in Amharic, focus heavily on Addis Ababa, and are usually only available in major cities.[13] According to one source, 49 percent of respondents in Addis Ababa read newspapers, but only 9 percent of respondents in Oromia region and 14 percent in Amhara region do.[14] Print publications have traditionally offered critical analysis and political opinion.

According to the EBA, as of April 2014 there were 17 licensed newspapers (9 of which focus on political, economic, and social affairs) and 20 licensed magazines (11 of which focus on political, economic and social affairs) in a country of more than 90 million people.[15] There are a variety of state-run and private printing presses that can print magazines but only one large, state-run printer that can consistently print newspapers. For a list of publications licensed by the EBA as of April 2014 that cover political, economic, and social issues, see Annex II.

Social media use is limited given that just 1.9 percent of the population has access to the Internet.[16] Internet access is much higher in Addis Ababa and other cities and it is an increasingly important medium to access information that is otherwise unavailable given restrictions on traditional media.[17] The Internet and social media are playing a growing role in conveying ideas, information, and perspectives among the young and educated.

The ruling party’s high level of repression of Ethiopia’s media environment has already had an adverse impact on the 2010 elections and bodes ill for Ethiopia’s next elections, scheduled for May 2015. Open and vibrant space for both traditional and “new” media plays a critical role in the spread of ideas and information, stimulates political debate, and shapes public perceptions about current events and issues. The media also plays a fundamental role in ensuring that different political perspectives and opinions are represented, an especially important element in any free and fair election contest.

III. Abuses against Media Professionals and Sources

It is simply part of what we do. If you want to write anything that is not pro-government you will receive these threats and harassment against your life and your family. For a lot of us it is terrifying and we limit our writings as a result. For those that refuse to do that, the pressure and strategies get worse until eventually we are in prison or we are exiled from our homeland.—Recently exiled Ethiopian journalist, October 2014

The Ethiopian government uses a variety of techniques, including targeting individual journalists with threats and prosecutions and regulatory measures against publishers and printers, to restrict critical analysis of political events and public discussion of divisive issues. The government’s apparent aim is to ensure that media promote—and never criticize—government initiatives and policies.

Journalists working for both state and independent publications told Human Rights Watch that they are being targeted through these various techniques, which often escalate in severity over time. If mild threats do not silence critical journalists then harsher techniques are used. As one exiled journalist said:

They use every tool in their toolbox to shut you up … and because they control everything in the country they have many ways to keep us down. If one technique does not work they use something else to beat us down until we just can’t fight anymore. Eventually we just give up and end up here [in exile].[18]

The most common technique employed against the media is threats and harassment by ruling party cadres, government officials, and security officials. Independent journalists are forced to self-censor or face a distinct pattern of threats and intimidation against them as described in the following subsections, while journalists with state-affiliated media outlets report being under constant pressure to promote EPRDF programs and priorities and to refrain from undertaking journalism seen as contrary to those priorities.

Attacks, Arbitrary Detentions, and Harassment of Journalists

Owners and editors of publications that are regularly critical of government policy or journalists who are known to write critical articles face regular and intense pressure from security officials. While some of these publications are viewed or indeed are connected with registered opposition parties, many seek to be independent, offer perspectives from all sides of the political spectrum, regularly seek the perspective of government and opposition parties alike, and generally meet the norms of independent journalism. At the same time, there are often-voiced concerns about the quality and professional standards of some of these publications. Those publications or journalists with real or perceived professional or personal ties to opposition parties, both registered and unregistered, seem to be under increased scrutiny.[19]

Once a critical article is published, authors or managers of the publication regularly receive threatening phone calls and text messages from ruling party cadres and security officials. A journalist who wrote an article critiquing the government’s approach to development issues said, “They would threaten me to stop working against the government, and promise me a better life if I would work in their favor.”[20] Many other individuals received text messages or phone calls from unidentified sources with various unsophisticated threats.

Sometimes security officials confront journalists on the street; in other cases police summon individuals to the federal police center, known as Maekelawi, or the Government Communications Affairs Office for questioning or interrogation.[21] Occasionally the individuals identify themselves as security officers, but often they do not identify themselves. In such cases, detentions are usually for short periods, no more than a couple of days, and mistreatment infrequent.

A freelance journalist who worked for Fact magazine said that after he wrote an article that criticized the government, the authorities accused him of being a foreign agent. “I criticized the government’s approach to foreign NGOs and [said it] was over the top. I was told by security officials: ‘You are an agent of a foreign enemy, you are trying to destabilize the country so you will be responsible. The next time you will see. We will not take you to prison but you will see’.” The journalist told Human Rights Watch that the threats terrified him: “Now I am more careful what I write. I cannot be as open as a journalist as I was before.”[22]

A journalist, who had worked for Feteh and Le’elina newspapers and the Addis Times magazine, described repeated harassment and threats to his family:

The government secret service agents started following my every movement and tried to stop me from working forFeteh by discouraging and insulting me. One morning I was walking to work when a well-built man called me by name and forced me to accompany him to a red hatchback. There were two other people in the car. As the driver started the engine the one who sat next to the driver started telling me in detail how my parents and my sister spend their time, where they work, at which hour of the morning my mother usually went to church. He threatened me that if I care about my family then I should stop working with Temesgen Desalegn [the owner of Feteh]…. I was afraid not just because they were repeatedly pointing their gun at my face but because I did not want to cause any danger to my parents.[23]

He eventually fled the country out of fear for his own safety. After several years of threats and arrests due to several opinion pieces published in Feteh, Temesgen Desalegn was charged in August 2012. A court convicted him of incitement and criminal defamation and on October 27, 2014, was sentenced to three years in prison.[24] The publisher of the now-defunct Feteh, Mastewal Birhanu, was also convicted in absentia.

Many journalists told Human Rights Watch that these types of threats are common. They said that officials made repeated references to the anti-terrorism law and the treatment meted out to other journalists, particularly imprisoned journalists Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega, to instill fear.[25] Experienced journalists with private publications reported receiving dozens, sometimes hundreds, of these threats via telephone, text message, email, and in person.[26]

Several journalists reporting on sensitive subjects said that senior officials of the Government Communications Affairs Office, including GCAO state minister Shimeles Kemal, invited them to meetings. The owner of Jano magazine said:

In June 2014, after I wrote about the Muslim protests,[27] I was called by the police to come to Maekelawi. I went there and then was taken directly [by car] to the office of Shimeles Kemal [at GCAO]. I was told by his employees, “This Muslim issue is calming down but you are inciting by writing on this.” After I left there I was followed home, I received phone threats over the following days.[28]

Another journalist described the progression of threats leading to eventual criminal charges:

After many threats and harassment, we continued our reporting as usual. I received calls warning, “Stop doing this action, or you will get a big punishment.” And then they started calling on my home line. They also started intimidating my family. They told my mother, “Tell your children to stop what they are doing.” More than 20 people called, different people, different numbers, some called from the number that we all know at Maekelawi, some from security. They had information about my family throughout the world. They knew everything. One person kept calling wanting information on my sources. I refused. He then asked about my connections with CPJ [Committee to Protect Journalists], Article 19, and then the threats became harsher: “You will taste the consequences like Eskinder Nega.” Once we published an article about the arrest of Andargachew [a Ginbot 7 leader and UK citizen] in Yemen, the threats became unbearable: “We will kill you since you refuse to stop.”[29]

Shortly thereafter, the authorities shut down his magazine and filed criminal charges against the owner.

Many journalists unsurprisingly soften their positions following constant threats and harassment. For those who do not, arbitrary detention is often the next step. The authorities will conduct interrogations to intimidate the individual into backing down from their critical coverage. They frequently follow a line of questioning about who finances the newspaper and will attempt to connect the publication to the banned political opposition party Ginbot 7, the diaspora television network ESAT, and various foreign nongovernmental organizations or other foreign organizations.

Since mid-2014 the authorities have more frequently questioned journalists about their connections to freedom of expression organizations such as Article 19 and the Committee to Protect Journalists. They regularly question ethnic Oromo about alleged connections to Oromo opposition groups, such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Other times questioning involves pressure to reveal sources of information. Security officials usually continue the harassment after release, encouraging friends and family to pressure the individual to censor their writings, while constantly using the threat of criminal charges under the anti-terrorism law as a final incentive.

A journalist working for Finote Netsanet,a publication connected with the registered opposition party Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), described the threats and his eventual arrest and detention in August 2014:

I was walking near [a location in Addis] with my friend, and one black car stopped ahead of us. Someone got out and told us to get into the car. They showed us their pistols, we got in, they covered our faces with blindfolds, and they took us to a villa somewhere in Addis, and took off our blindfolds and they threatened us. They told me everything about my family: my children’s names, where they go to school, what [my son’s] clothes are, what my wife looks like, all my history, all to scare me. For the next 10 hours, they pointed guns at our heads, insulted us, and warned us to stop writing anti-government stories. They released us after 10 hours of this. They asked me about connections with foreign organizations like Article 19 and CPJ, and asked about my connections to specific ESAT employees. They forced me to give up my password for Facebook, Twitter, and email. I interviewed [a CPJ employee] for a magazine, they even brought that magazine when they interrogated me, and went through it.[30]

The authorities have also targeted entire publications. In mid-2014 in a tactic repeatedly used against human rights groups, organizers of the Muslim protests, and others, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation produced and aired propaganda programs that vilified specific magazines and newspapers.[31] The programs zoomed in on the front covers of five publications and suggested they were against Ethiopia’s development, were trying to “destabilize” the government, and were being used as the mouthpieces of terrorist organizations. The owners of the publications told Human Rights Watch that the impact of the programs on their magazines included a decline in sales and in advertising, a reluctance of freelance journalists to work for them, and increased difficulty finding printers and distributors.[32] A former resident of Addis Ababa said: “I used to be a regular reader of Afro Times [one of the targeted publications] but after the documentary when they said it was supporting terrorism, I was afraid to be seen buying it or reading it. I knew it wasn’t true but that doesn’t matter in Ethiopia.”[33]

Any articles viewed as critical of Ethiopia’s development programs, coverage of politically sensitive topics such as public protests, or articles focused on any of the organizations Ethiopia has deemed to be terrorist organizations have caused particular problems for their authors and publications.[34] One sensitive topic that triggered escalated threats by security officials was the health of longtime Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who died in August 2012.[35] One journalist wrote a series of editorials on Meles, including one criticizing the secrecy surrounding his health in the weeks before his death. The journalist said:

Somebody from Maekelawi called me to office #38 at Maekelawi in August 2012, because of my editorial[s]…. They told me to stop writing or I would be prosecuted under the anti-terrorism law. I was there for eight days before being released on bail…. There was no political motive [to my editorials]. They were looking for information on who I was working with and why I was writing these articles. They would beat me with a stick on the back of the head. My family did not know where I was. For three days they would beat me at night.[36]

Journalists report also having problems with officials when they try to report on abuses by the Ethiopian National Defense Force or other security forces including in the Somali, Gambella, or Oromia regions. Coverage of controversial criminal trials also causes problems. For example, several people told Human Rights Watch that they faced difficulties after providing commentary on the trials of the Zone 9 bloggers in 2014.[37] One person working for a private magazine described reprisals for tweeting from the Zone 9 trials: “They would continue their harassment during the [Zone 9] trials. They would talk about what I was writing and say: ‘Always you are exaggerating, you are degrading the country’s stature again.’ I should be able to write about what is said in a courtroom, but they wanted to stop me.”[38]

Criminal Charges against Media Professionals

The Ethiopian government has charged at least 38 journalists with various crimes under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation or the Criminal Code since the 2010 elections.[39] In all cases, security officials threatened and harassed individuals before criminal charges were filed. In most cases they were charged with criminal defamation or “inciting the public through false rumors,” grounds that should not be the basis for criminal punishment. Serious due process concerns, including lengthy pre-charge detentions, no access to legal counsel, and absence of judicial independence, marred all of the nine trials that Human Rights Watch monitored.[40]

The following section summarizes five cases.

Reeyot Alemu Gobebo, a school teacher and regular contributor to the weekly newspaper Feteh, was arrested in June 2011. In January 2012 she was sentenced to 14 years in prison under the anti-terrorism law and the criminal code.[41] According to court records, she was accused of accepting a terrorist mission, and was responsible for “the collection and transfer of information helpful for terrorist action” based on innocuous emails accessed from her email account while she was in custody.[42] In August 2012 two of the charges were dropped on appeal and her sentence reduced to five years. Evidence introduced at trial included intercepted phone calls and emails with journalists in the diaspora. In 2013 she received the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize and Human Rights Watch’s Hellman/Hammett press freedom prize.[43]

Woubshet Taye Abebe and Elias Kifle were both convicted under the anti-terrorism law and criminal code. Elias is the editor of Washington DC-based Ethiopian Review and was sentenced to life in prison in absentia. The website of Ethiopian Review is now blocked in Ethiopia.[44] Woubshet was the editor of Awramba Timesand is currently serving a 14-year sentence. Intercepted phone calls and emails were key pieces of evidence in the trials—none of which were acquired through appropriate legal channels and should not have been admissible in court under Ethiopian law.[45] In October 2013 Woubshet received the Free Press Award from the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards.[46]

Eskinder NegaFenta has repeatedly faced government hostility for his journalism and blogging, with eight arrests and detentions since 1993. Eskinder and his wife, Serkalem Fasil, were imprisoned for 17 months following the 2005 elections. In 2011 Eskinder wrote articles about the Arab Spring uprisings and called for peaceful protests. In July 2012, after nine months in detention, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, as well as participation in a terrorist organization and treason. Five other journalists were charged at the same time and sentenced to between eight years and life in prison, mostly in absentia.[47] In 2012 Eskinder received the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award and in 2014 won the Golden Pen Award of Freedom.[48] In December 2012 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Eskinder’s detention was arbitrary and called for his immediate release and reparations.[49] Eskinder remains in prison. In October 2014 Eskinder and Reeyot filed an appeal with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights asserting that their convictions and imprisonment violate their rights to freedom of expression and to a fair trial.[50]

In July 2012, at the height of the Muslim protests in Ethiopia, chief editor Yusuf Getachew at Muslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs) magazine was arrested and charged with incitement under the anti-terrorism law. He had written articles about the Muslim protests and the concerns of protesters that the government was interfering in religious affairs.[51] Yusuf’s charge sheet states that “he [Yusuf] has established media that preaches Islamic extremism after he has taken full responsibility of the media he has printed and reported articles that are violence initiators.”[52] Lawyers for Yusuf allege he was mistreated in detention.[53] In January 2013 managing editor Solomon Kebede was also arrested and charged under the anti-terrorism law in February 2013. The publication ceased operations after Yusuf’s arrest. Other staff members fled the country.

The crackdown escalated in 2014. In April six members of the prominent blogging collective Zone 9 were arrested in Addis Ababa, alongside three journalists. Blogging under the slogan “we blog because we care,” the Zone 9-ers covered social, political, and other events of interest to young Ethiopians. The six bloggers in custody are Atnaf Berahane, Befekadu Hailu, Abel Wabela, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnael Feleke, andZelalem Kibret. Soliana Shimeles, a seventh blogger, was charged in absentia. Three journalists,Tesfalem Waldyes, Edom Kassaye, and Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, an editor at weekly magazine Addis Guday, were arrested in April.[54]

All 10 were charged under the criminal code and anti-terrorism law in July 2014. Their trials, marred by various due process concerns, continued at time of writing.[55] According to the charge sheet, evidence presented to support the charge included their participation in a digital security training course organized by the Tactical Technology Collective.[56]

The crackdown continued in August 2014 when the Ministry of Justice said in a press release that six magazines and newspapers—Lomi, Enku, Fact, Jano, Addis Guday, and Afro Times—had been charged with “encouraging terrorism, endangering national security, repeated incitement of ethnic and religious hate, and smears against officials and public institutions.”[57] The press release was the first that their owners and editors heard about the charges. The charges followed a lengthy campaign of threats and harassment from security officials, ETV accusations that the publications were a “mouthpiece for terrorist groups,” and targeting of their printers and distributors.

The charges focused on various articles that appeared in the magazines. For example, the charges against Lomimagazine’s owners were based on three articles, including one titled: “The Adornments of Terrorism.” According to the charge sheet, the article stated: “It is not too long ago that EPRDF, worrying for its power, has started hunting and incarcerating, all in the name of terrorism, journalists and strong dissidents who, in the spirit of competitiveness, are raising opposing ideas.”[58] Another article cited on the charge sheet was written by British freelance journalist Graham Peebles.[59] On October 7, 2014, Addis Guday publisher Endalkachew Tesfaye, Lomi publisher Gizaw Taye, and Fact publisher Fatuma Nuriya were sentenced in absentia to between three and four years each.[60]

Targeting of Sources, Interviewees, and Informants

Ethiopian security officials often target individuals who speak to the media. Journalists at various media outlets told Human Rights Watch that in the past 12 months it has become increasingly difficult to find witnesses to events and experts who are willing to be interviewed from inside Ethiopia. This is even more of a challenge for foreign-based media such as the Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), and Oromia Media Network.

Much of the reluctance to be interviewed stems from increasing fear of speaking out on sensitive issues, and there have been cases in which security officials have singled out individuals because of their connections with these foreign broadcasters. In most cases the officials just warned them, but several cases resulted in people being detained. Five individuals Human Rights Watch interviewed were arrested because they had phone conversations with media outlets. Pervasive telephone surveillance, both real and perceived, has dramatically limited the amount of information that is communicated to media via telephone both within Ethiopia and internationally.[61]

One well-known Addis Ababa-based journalist who works for a large state-affiliated publication described the challenges of gathering information in rural areas:

There is little coverage of sensitive events outside of Addis. It’s expensive for us to go there and local officials often make it hard for us to speak with people. And then when we get there people are just too afraid to speak. If they don’t know you they won’t speak. I speak their language [but] it doesn’t matter. But I understand: if they speak to me someone will know and they will have problems.[62]

A journalist for TV Oromia, a state-run television broadcaster, who said that she was accompanied by local security officials when interviewing students about arrests at Adama University in June 2013, told Human Rights Watch:

I recorded what they said about how government was trying to portray them as terrorists, but they were just students trying to learn. The people I was with [security officials] took them away to another room; two and a half hours later they came back and they were crying and were shaken up. Their story had changed completely and they told me how they had planned to blow up government institutions and public places. They clearly were just students who had been threatened. I left the campus right there so angry with my government, and after that I had many problems with security officials at my workplace. I was compelled to report to security every day after that.[63]

Shortly thereafter she was removed from her position and now lives abroad.

These government techniques have been very effective at suppressing independent voices within Ethiopia’s domestic media. But they are ineffective against foreign and diaspora media who, given that they are based outside Ethiopia, cannot as easily be intimidated into silence. For these outlets, the government uses various strategies including jamming of broadcast signals and systematic targeting of their sources, informants, and anyone who shares information with them.

Human Rights Watch documented 10 cases of individuals being targeted for speaking to VOA, ESAT, OMN, or other foreign stations. For example, in December 2010 a man who had been displaced from his land in Gambella to make way for investors described his experience to VOA. Shortly thereafter he and his colleagues were forced to flee Ethiopia into South Sudan amid threats from security personnel. Their photographs and information had been shared by Ethiopian security officials with their security colleagues in South Sudan.[64]VOA had used a pseudonym but had not altered his voice or the details of the story. Given the small population of both his ethnic group and the town he lived in and the content of the story, his identity was evident to government officials. The individual now lives in a refugee camp in a neighboring country. According to the VOA reporter on that story, he asked the individual if he would like to use a pseudonym or alter his voice. The individual, either unaware of the risk or enthusiastic to share his story, declined these protections and has now has been compelled to live abroad.[65]

In March 2014 the diaspora-run Oromia Media Network began operating. OMN is a private satellite television channel that focuses on news and analysis of events in Oromia region, Ethiopia, and the greater Horn of Africa.[66] Government officials have subsequently threatened viewers and harassed individuals who have provided information to OMN. An independent documentary filmmaker said he was threatened by security personnel after being contacted by a high-profile individual within OMN to ask for technical advice:

I was called by security personnel to come to the local council office where they told me, “There is much data that is going to OMN, all of this data must be coming from you, you are giving technical support to OMN. Since they are terrorists, you are assisting terrorists. We understand what you are doing, if you do not stop it will be your end.” I had only communicated via phone with OMN but I stopped communication at that time because I was afraid, but the harassment continued from security officials.

Two weeks later he fled the country fearful for his life.[67]

An employee from a woreda (district) in Oromia spoke to VOA about the failure of the government to payworeda salaries on time. After appearing on VOA’s Afan Oromo service he was arrested. He told Human Rights Watch:

They [the authorities] told me I was a terrorist and put me in jail for 21 days. I was beaten each night for the first week and they would burn me on my arms with their cigarettes. They chained me to a table and would beat me and hit me with sticks while they accused me of exposing government secrets to the foreign media. Since I have been released they have not allowed me go back to work.[68]

In another case, a radio journalist was attempting to cover a story on displacement due to clashes between Somali and Oromo communities in eastern Oromia in 2013, but security forces stopped him from accessing the area. He told Human Rights Watch: “We couldn’t cover the story but VOA managed to report on it. I was then arrested for three months because they said, ‘We deprived you to cover this so you leaked it to them’.” The journalist said he was interrogated nightly for two weeks: “They would ask me to confess to leaking information to VOA. They also wanted me to work with them and provide information on others. I refused. They would beat me with sticks. I have scars all over my body from this.” He was never charged, and never saw a lawyer during his three months in detention.[69]

A man working for Ethio Telecom in a very remote area in Southern Nation, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) described being pressured by the authorities to monitor who was using the VSAT phone in the local Ethio Telecom office. This was the only phone available to the community and during times of conflict between local ethnic groups, individuals within those communities spoke to Voice of America and Deutsche Welle. He said, “I was supposed to monitor who was using the phone and record any phone calls that were suspicious. When the information began appearing on VOA/DW, I was arrested and spent 18 days in prison for allowing this to happen.”[70]

Exiled Ethiopians reported being intimidated by both foreign and Ethiopian security officials outside of Ethiopia once they appeared on ESAT or VOA. Several individuals told Human Rights Watch that they spoke to ESAT or VOA about their ordeals and the rights abuses they were subject to inside Ethiopia after they sought asylum abroad. One man said:

I spoke to VOA in December 2012 about my experiences in Ethiopia and then became a target of the police in Nairobi. I had five interactions. In one case they had Ethiopian people with them who told me, “In Ethiopia you oppose government policy. When you leave, you speak about human rights. You didn’t stop your mission, this is a problem. This is not good for our reputation.”[71]

Other individuals said that their family members inside Ethiopia were targeted once an exiled family member appeared on VOA or ESAT.

Both ESAT and VOA use various strategies to protect the identities of individuals including using pseudonyms, altering voices, and omission of certain details, but these techniques seem to be used inconsistently. Individuals, particularly from rural areas, also seem largely unaware of the risks of speaking to these outlets.

Threats and Harassment from Opposition and Diaspora Groups

Journalists from both state-run and private media reported that threats, harassment, and intimidation came not only from government officials but also from opposition groups, particularly those groups in the diaspora. One journalist based outside Ethiopia said:

We are accused of being mouthpieces of [EPRDF], but then we are accused by the government of being the mouthpiece of Ginbot 7. We can’t win…. From a repressive government you would expect it, but from diaspora trying to paint themselves as an alternative, it is unacceptable. Being an independent journalist does not mean siding with the opposition, it means looking at the issues of the day in a critical manner regardless of who gains politically. But if we do not criticize the government for everything, the opposition media attacks us mercilessly with online smear campaigns and by email, phone, and even in person.[72]

Different diaspora journalists have described receiving threats via telephone, email, and in person from unknown individuals.

IV. Regulatory and Other Restrictions on Media

The Ethiopian government uses various strategies and techniques to close down publications that are deemed to be too critical. Private publications close because key individuals are imprisoned, because of excessive harassment of staff, lack of options for printing the publication, and because of financial difficulties brought about at least in part by government harassment, or denial or revocation of required licenses. In other cases government officials de facto shut down publications, although it is rarely clear who is responsible or under what authority.

For example, Lomi magazine employees arrived at their office one day in July 2014 to find a notice on the door that the magazine had been “shut down.”[73]

Many publications produce one issue and then close after publication under pressure from security officials. A publication owner told Human Rights Watch:

They [security officials] harassed my staff, they targeted my printers, they detained me three times, they accused me of supporting terrorism, they kept asking questions about where our financing came from, they threatened us with closure, and then our landlord started threatening us. It was too much, so we just closed. They didn’t legally shut us down but did everything in their power to ensure that we shut down. If I didn’t do it myself, eventually they would’ve done it formally for me.[74]

A man who worked for a radio station in Oromia described a verbal order to close:

After Meles died, the radio station was closed down because we did not use the exact wording regarding the public displays of mourning that we were told to by government. We indicated the mourning was optional, not mandatory. They gave us specific words to read on the air in our story and we changed them to make it optional.

The man told Human Rights Watch that his movement was restricted after the closure: “We were called to the zonal office in Harerghe and were told by the chief administrator of the zone, ‘This station is supposed to reflect the government message but you were straying from your mandate so you are closed’.”[75] The radio station never reopened.

Politicization of the Regulatory System

The government of Ethiopia uses its regulation of the media to stifle new private publications. Rather than regulators overseeing the media industry in line with international standards, publications that are not affiliated with the ruling party are subject to onerous background checks and regular interactions with security officials. A variety of new magazines and newspapers told Human Rights Watch about the difficulties they faced in acquiring the necessary broadcast license despite meeting all requirements.

While the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority has the legal authority to regulate media, according to the Broadcasting Service Proclamation it is ultimately responsible to the Government Communications Affairs Office, the former Ministry of Information. The GCAO is accountable to the prime minister, making the EBA far from an independent regulatory authority.

Any licenses acquired from the EBA are fraught with delays and questioning about the background of the individuals involved, the financing of the organization, and the political orientation of key employees.[76] This line of questioning goes far beyond the mandate of the organization as outlined in the Broadcasting Service Proclamation and the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation.[77]

A journalist described the process: “Once you apply for the license, they ask with whom you have relations, both inside and outside of the country. It is very difficult to get the permits to do your work, they study your background—your family, your friends, your history, and your political connections. It’s all about politics and control and whether you are likely to criticize the government in your writings.”[78]

In rural areas similar challenges exist. An Afan Oromo magazine started publishing without proper registration. Its first issue covered cultural issues and sports along with an analysis of the right to education in Oromia. Following that issue, the publisher became aware of the requirement for a permit—he applied and was refused by federal authorities in Addis Ababa. Security officials then called and threatened him because of the content of the first issue. The magazine ceased production after just one issue.[79]

Even if a publication has the necessary permits and licenses, renewals are used as another pressure point against critical journalists. In January 2013 the EBA declined to renew the professional competence certificate of then-Addis Times publisher Temesgen Desalegn because he had not reported a change of address and ownership of his newspaper’s shareholders, and failed to “submit the required two copies of every edition within 24 hours of their dissemination.”[80] This excessive action was taken after officials had repeatedly warned Temesgen about his critical coverage.

Efforts to establish private radio stations are equally fraught with problems. An individual who wanted to launch a new private radio station said, “We had raised money from Ethiopian investors since Ethiopia does not allow foreign citizens to invest in media. We carried out a scoping mission in Addis. When I was leaving I was stopped at the airport and was questioned by security officials about my work as a journalist, what I intend to achieve in opening broadcast media in Ethiopia, as well as my journalism colleagues, resulting in me missing my flight. They took my belongings only returning them five days later.” He added, “Their final message to me was ‘We know you inside out. We know you try to be an independent reporter but I can assure you if you work with us not only will you get the license you will get land and benefits. Be wise’.’’ The station was never established.[81]

International broadcasters, including VOA and DW, reported difficulties in getting licenses for stringers to work in Ethiopia.[82] A foreign journalist or an Ethiopian journalist working for a foreign station in Ethiopia is required to have a license.

There is no legal justification for media regulations to be used for political purposes either to deny licenses altogether or compel censorship of critical coverage.

Rewarding Political Patronage

Within state-affiliated publications, a number of journalists told Human Rights Watch that they were being pressured to join the EPRDF ruling party. A number of journalists who refused to join in “order to maintain our independence” faced problems and, in interviews with Human Rights Watch, they mentioned the lack of party membership in several cases as a reason why individuals had not been promoted or wages were deducted. Several journalists reported joining the ruling party after pressure against them became too strong. One journalist said: “Whenever there was an opportunity for promotion or to work on an interesting story they bypassed me for someone with far less experience because I refused to join the party. Finally I gave in and joined and I was immediately promoted, given a salary increase, and the problems I had had stopped.”[83] This journalist still works for one of the leading Addis-based government-affiliated newspapers.

A government official within a woreda communications bureau said:

Historically I was known as a member of a [registered] opposition party, so if I was to work in that office they forced me to be a party member. When I would refuse they will give you another label—opposition, terrorist, and so on. They detained me twice in a military barracks because of this. I saw what happened to my colleagues who gave in and joined—they give you improved positions and salaries. For example, the one who manages me didn’t complete high school, he is an OPDO member[84]—me, I completed university but refuse to be a member. There is always a conflict with those people—they work with the interest of the party and nothing else.[85]

Pressure to join the EPRDF also existed in journalism programs in major universities—in some cases this pressure was very direct with potential members being told they would receive good jobs in newspapers or television stations after they completed their studies if they joined. In other cases it was more indirect—party members would get invited to more networking events and training opportunities.[86]

Restrictive Financial Environment

In Ethiopia, where literacy levels are low, particularly outside of major cities, and discretionary household income is low, it is very difficult for private publications to remain financially solvent. Given direct and indirect government control over various parts of the media supply chain, the authorities use this control to restrict revenues and increase expenses—making it more difficult for small publications to remain financially solvent. One owner of a now-defunct magazine told Human Rights Watch:

Our [profit] margins are low to begin with. What little profit we have disappears when government targets us and our printers. When we have to bail out our employees it costs us financially. When they don’t like what we write, they accuse us of not paying taxes and our taxes go up. When government calls us terrorists or says we are working to destabilize the state, then people are afraid to buy our magazine and advertisers won’t advertise, so our revenues drop…. In these cases, the outside world sees that a small newspaper couldn’t make it financially, which happens, but in reality government harassment is driving our costs up and our revenues down…. In the end we can’t pay our staff enough and we can’t make enough money to survive.[87]

Targeting Printers and Distributors

Private publications have tried to pool resources and import expensive newspaper printing equipment but they allege their equipment gets tied up in bureaucratic delays at Ethiopian customs for years on end.[88]

Given challenges with the state-run Berhanena Selam Printing Enterprise (BSPE) and the lack of options for private printing presses, many new publications opt for magazine format because the equipment is cheaper, easier to import, and paper is more easily acquired. However, magazine printers are also under similar threats and pressure from security officials once a private magazine is known. One magazine owner said, “Once we print something government doesn’t like, it then becomes very difficult to find anyone to print our magazines. They are either pressured from government not to print or just scared of being associated with content that is not government propaganda.”[89]

Printers who refuse to yield to government pressure have faced higher than usual taxes on imported paper, regulatory challenges, occasional closures, and loss of lucrative contracts with government sponsored publications. Some printers have closed doors completely because of these challenges, unable to compete financially with the larger state-run printer.[90]

As a result of such threats and intimidation, private printing presses often refuse to print private publications. Virtually every private print publication had serious challenges finding a printing press that is willing to print. Some printing presses will take on publications when print runs are small, but once those publications reach a certain size of print run they come under pressure from security personnel to refrain from printing copies.

In other cases, security officials made no direct threats per se, but the fear of being associated with the magazines resulted in the printer dropping them. After Lomi, Addis Guday, and Fact were charged under the criminal code in August 2014, their printers stopped printing their publications. One well-known private printer who published one of the five magazines that were charged in 2014 stated: “After the [magazine] was charged, a plainclothes security officer came to me and told me not to print that magazine anymore. He said ‘If you print again you will go to jail.’ I signed a form so I will not print them anymore. It’s not worth it.”[91]

In several other cases, government officials apparently offered printing presses very lucrative contracts for school examinations or school books as an incentive to printers to stop printing private publications.[92] As one printer told Human Rights Watch, “Given government control of key sectors if you want to survive as a printer you need government contracts. You won’t get those if you publish private publications, none of which get us enough revenue to make it worth taking the risk.”[93] In one case, a security official allegedly told a printer directly they would receive lucrative government contracts if they stopped printing one specific private publication.[94]

In an attempt to protect printers from any crackdowns against the publications themselves, many private publications contain the disclaimer inside the front page: “Any article/s printed on this newspaper is/are not related to the printing press.”

Many private publications state that lack of printing options caused their publications to go out of business. The owner of one private news magazine with a circulation of between 12,000 and 20,000 copies said:

Things were fine until I published an article about Ginbot 7. For the first time I even used their name in that article. My printer dropped me, I went to [another printer], they refused, then to [yet another printer], and they refused. In all I went to 16 different printers. They all refused because they were scared and I could not print my magazine anymore.[95]

A number of publication owners and editors in chief told Human Rights Watch that cadres or security officials had targeted their distributors in the same way as printers. The owner of a private magazine said, “Security officials came to the office and asked for a list of the distributors we were using. They then went and told them not to distribute our magazine anymore. We had 30 or 40 distributors.” But the pressure did not stop there according to the owner. “Then they went and pressured the magazine sellers. Most of those that were new sellers would just stop, the more experienced ones would take less copies…. We also heard of security agents coming and grab the papers from the sellers.”[96]

Large-scale distributors are state-affiliated and several publications report that once a private newspaper becomes more known then distributors take less copies, or refuse outright to distribute what copies they take. They said that publications are confiscated from shops or from newspaper sellers on the streets in Addis Ababa, either by uniformed police or by unknown persons. There have been reports of some distributors being arrested for continuing to distribute certain private publications but Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm these incidents.

Targeting Advertisers

Advertising revenues are crucial for any media publication. The majority of advertising revenues in the media sector come from government agencies or parastatal companies, both of which advertise primarily in state-affiliated publications.[97] Given high levels of state ownership in key industrial sectors, the extent of private business that is able to offer advertising revenues to private publications is very limited.

Many smaller, private advertisers choose to avoid aligning themselves with private publications in order to avoid government reprisals. While this seems to be largely from the fear of being associated with the publications rather than direct threats from security officials, Human Rights Watch did find several situations where advertisers had been directly or indirectly warned by government not to advertise in private publications.

The owner of Enku magazine said: “Once you are cast in that light by the government, no advertiser wants to be near you. After the first ETV documentary, most of our advertisers dropped out, even those that had a contract with us broke the contract. They were just too scared.”[98]

Individuals at Feteh told Human Rights Watch that a regular advertiser told them: “‘We cannot advertise, we are afraid, we got an order from the government. Your paper is dangerous….’ They tell us we can’t advertise anymore or we will face problems.”[99]

The offer of lucrative government advertising was also used as a lure to limit critical coverage in private publications. At least one editor and owner of a private newspaper that was struggling financially said that security officers repeatedly told him on the phone and in person at the GCAO that if they limit their critical coverage of political issues they would receive lucrative government advertising contracts:

This is a huge lure for a small newspaper. It is very difficult to survive financially as a private paper. Government advertising revenues that allow the state papers to be comfortable financially aren’t available for us as long as we do not write pro-government articles.[100]

 

V. Suppressing Access to Information

Restricting Movement of Journalists

Ethiopian authorities regularly limit the ability of both Ethiopian and international journalists to access sensitive areas and investigate important events, both within and outside Addis Ababa.

While Ethiopia’s media is very concentrated in Addis Ababa, some journalists do attempt to report on events outside of the capital. Addis-based journalists report being turned back by security forces at Ethiopia’s numerous roadblocks, usually when they are attempting to cover events, such as the 2014 protests in Oromia. Those journalists that were able to access the areas faced numerous problems, including harassment and threats from security personnel, and many were arbitrarily detained until after the protest. Certain parts of the country where there are allegations of grave human rights violations are inaccessible to independent journalists, including the Ogaden area of Somali region.[101] Journalists have also found it difficult to access areas with longstanding human rights concerns associated with government’s development projects, including Gambella and the Lower Omo Valley. Areas around large-scale development projects, such as the Grand Renaissance Dam in Benishangul-Gumuz, are off-limits to journalists unless when part of a state-organized visit.

While security is often cited by officials as the main reason limiting their movement, state-affiliated journalists and other foreign journalists are occasionally permitted to visit these areas, suggesting that access limitations are more linked to the profile of the journalist than security risks.

In other remote areas, journalists are required to register with local government officials who either permit the journalist to undertake their activities, deny them permission, or require them to take a government minder or translator with them for the duration of their visit. A number of journalists report undertaking long and expensive journeys only to be prevented from doing their job by local government officials.

It is critical that international journalists be given access to sensitive areas of the country in order to cover news stories that would otherwise go unreported given restrictions on domestic media. Foreign journalists have also faced harassment and interrogations upon entry or exit to the country, being denied permission by local government at the woreda or kebele level despite having national government authorization, high levels of state surveillance, and a requirement to use government translators, logistics coordinators, or drivers.[102] Increasingly, journalists are being denied entry visas, particularly for visits related to human rights issues or development projects.

Several Ethiopian journalists based outside of Addis Ababa (largely in Oromia) told Human Rights Watch that, after encountering all sorts of problems with government and security officials, they had to report to the local police station each morning to ensure they do not go outside of the home community to cover events or spread information. In one case a television journalist was fired for refusing ruling party membership, while a radio journalist was detained for trying to cover a controversial story about an agricultural investor: “We were not allowed to travel anywhere, were not allowed to report on anything anymore, and had to report to the police stations each morning so that they knew we were still in town.”[103]

Where journalists are unable to access areas, for both financial reasons and government restrictions, telephone is one of the few options left for acquiring information. As mobile phone coverage increases in Ethiopia, it could be an option for journalists to communication with sources in the rural areas, but Ethiopia’s capacity to monitor the telephone is also rising.[104] As one journalist said, “The phone is not an option. We know our phones are monitored, and it is very possible the people we want to speak with have their phone monitored as well. But even if they are not, very few people are willing to speak to us on the phone anymore. They’re just scared of us if they don’t know us.”[105]

Despite the vast majority of Ethiopia’s population living in rural areas,[106] there is very little coverage of news in these areas. While the reasons for this are complex, the concentration of Ethiopia’s media in Addis Ababa and restrictions on movement outside of the capital ensures that there is greatly disproportionate coverage of issues on Addis Ababa. Many significant events occurring in rural Ethiopia are never reported in Addis Ababa or outside of the country.

The 2014 Oromia Protests

During sensitive political events, the government uses a variety of tools to control the spread of information. For example, in April and May 2014 the government severely limited information about protests that swept through Oromia Region sparked by the proposed Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan. The plan proposes to expand the city of Addis Ababa’s municipal boundary and absorb more than 15 communities in Oromia. Demonstrators were concerned about the change of municipal jurisdiction and the displacement of Oromo farmers and residents. The protests quickly spread to involve other long-standing Oromo grievances with the government. [107]

Many international journalists said they had great difficulties contacting individuals involved in the protests either in person, by phone, or by email. Foreign journalists trying to access the area were turned back at roadblocks by security personnel, while Ethiopian reporters who managed to report on the issue were detained or harassed by the authorities. Protesters who spoke to media were threatened or detained by the authorities while individuals watching diaspora-run television stations were harassed and threatened for viewing. Months later, foreign journalists who went to these areas reported that local people still fear speaking about these events given the possibility of reprisals against them and their families.

Several people told Human Rights Watch that in the early days of the protests the authorities arrested them immediately after they spoke to journalists. In each case the person was severely beaten in detention and released after several days. Security officials accused them of organizing the protests and asked why they were spreading “lies” to the media. In several cases they were accused of leaking information or “telling lies” to Voice of America or Ethiopian Satellite Television—those held said they had not provided information to these outlets.

The protests began just two months after the Oromia Media Network started its operation. A number of individuals in Oromia reported authorities threatened or even arrested them because they were watching OMN. A local government employee said that the woreda administrator questioned him:

Several of us had been watching what was happening on OMN and he threatened us: “Whoever is watching OMN will be considered an enemy by this government and will be arrested.” At least four government employees were arrested for being found to be watching it in their homes after this. Government was afraid of OMN because they believed, as they were, that they were spreading news about the protest. But isn’t that what media is supposed to do?… We couldn’t get the information anywhere else. [108]A journalist working for a private magazine described her experience covering the protests in Oromia:

I was interviewing people and asking them about their opinions. While this was happening, I was grabbed and forced into a car. They were security officers—they harassed and threatened me, “Don’t take part in this, it is against the government.” They took my mobile phones and my voice recorder. They then locked me in their car for the duration of the protests that day. When they came back they forced me to sign a paper that said I would not interfere in government issues. They then drove me out into the forest and dropped me off there…. I felt like a criminal. Journalism is not a crime, but in Ethiopia you are treated like a criminal just for being a journalist.[109]The owner of the same magazine told Human Rights Watch that security officials threatened them: “If any of these issues appear in the magazine you will be shot.” Articles appeared about the protests and he was arrested, taken to Maekelawi, placed in solitary confinement for two days, and then released on bail. This was the eighth time he had been detained in Maekelawi.[110]

The net effect of the repression was that a massive protest movement that engulfed large parts of Ethiopia’s largest region, in which at least nine people died, likely many more, and hundreds were arrested, received little domestic coverage, including in Ethiopia’s Amharic language media, and barely a mention in the international media. As one international journalist told Human Rights Watch: “We would love to do something on this issue, but if we can’t get the information easily we can’t cover the story.” [111]

Censorship and Self-Censorship

Censorship? If you are a journalist you censor everything you do, if you don’t then you are no longer a journalist—you become a prisoner or a refugee.—Journalist living abroad, October 2014

To be a journalist in Ethiopia requires considerable self-censorship, muting any criticism of government or facing ongoing harassment. Journalists working for state-run publications know that their stories must reflect government rhetoric. Several reporters suggested that government cadres are given key positions in state-run newspapers and effectively censor content. They rarely have a journalism background and have no university education—their main concern is ensuring that content follows the government line.

Private newspapers and magazines often try to walk the fine line between censoring their coverage to avoid harassment from the authorities while trying to be independent and provide critical commentary of news events. Subjects that many publications avoid or limit their coverage of include anything to do with the groups designated as terrorist organizations under the anti-terrorism law. The editor-in-chief of one private magazine described particular pressures around the anti-terrorism law:

Anything to do with terrorism is the worst. We get lots of info about the OLF [Oromo Liberation Front] and ONLF [Ogaden National Liberation Front] but it is very difficult to publish anything, regardless of whether the coverage is good or bad for the government. We particularly try to avoid using their names even though everybody would know who we are talking about. Ginbot 7 is the same. When Andargachew [a Ginbot 7 leader and UK citizen] was sent back to Ethiopia, we all covered it, but we would not mention Ginbot 7 by name. We’re just too scared of government twisting what we say and accusing us of being terrorists.[112]

Within state-run publications, journalists report being under frequent pressure to write stories that promote a government narrative and many spoke about examples where pieces that they wrote were dramatically edited to take out anything remotely critical about government. “All journalism has to promote the government narrative about how everything government is doing is good,” explained a journalist. “If a school is built but there are no teachers the story will be about how government is now providing education to thousands of people when in reality nothing has changed.”[113]

One radio journalist described producing a story about a hospital near Dire Dawa that was built by a US Catholic mission:

When my editor reviewed it, he changed it to say that the government sympathized with the local people and built the hospital themselves. It was a complete lie, but because it’s in the local language [Afan Oromo] the foreigners would never know.[114]

Editors-in-chief will personally ensure that any articles covering sensitive subjects do not contain any perceived anti-government content. One journalist said:

The only thing they [editors] are concerned with is ensuring that there is no content that will offend government. Sections critical of government are removed or edited, while sections are added that promote government agenda. There are no edits for quality or anything else, they don’t know anything about that—the edits are just to advance government goals—it’s like having our own government censors in every paper. The new laws in place [Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation] hold editors-in-chief responsible for content so in a way they are just protecting themselves from problems with government.[115]

Larger radio stations said they have similar editorial policies and perspectives. Smaller radio stations in Oromia had a more direct relationship with government censors—having to regularly submit stories to a zonal orworeda communications office ahead of airing. A journalist working for a semi-autonomous radio station in eastern Oromia said:

Once we wanted to write a story about drought in the area and the impact it was having on farmers. We were told not to air the story because it would make government look bad. Before we air something we have to go to the “command post” at the zonal office, they [zonal leader and cadres] say yes/no or change things around.[116]

There exists similar pressure within government communications offices. A government spokesperson for aworeda communications office said he was under constant harassment because he challenged the government narrative:

They would tell me to lie directly: If we construct a hospital, tell the people—it took this amount of money even when the actual amount of money was much lower. If you don’t do what they tell you, we will accuse you of being OLF. Before I would speak to a newspaper or a radio station, I would be prepared by the government. If I strayed from that version to tell the truth you would have your salary deducted or they would demote you.[117]

In most cases, however, journalists employed by state-run publications censored their writings in order to continue enjoying the many benefits of working as a journalist in the state-run sector. Journalists in both private and state-run media said these benefits include higher wages, access to government press conferences, access to training opportunities, and the ability to work without harassment from authorities.[118]

A radio journalist described what happened when he aired a controversial story about the 2010 elections without going through the local government censors:

I interviewed a local Oromo Federal Congress opposition member. He talked about how the results had been manipulated by government in that area. He outlined all the evidence in my story and there was a quote from him that said “They stole the voice of the people.” I knew this one would not be allowed to be aired so we just put it on the air ourselves without going through the local administration. We would always submit our stories to the local government communications office for approval. I was arrested [and detained] for three months as a result and taken to a military camp. My colleagues were arrested and I’ve never heard of their whereabouts since.[119]

Foreign stations broadcasting in Ethiopia are also under pressure to censor their coverage to ensure they do not upset the government. In 2012, diaspora groups accused Deutsche Welle of self-censoring their criticism of government in order to be able to work in the country, a claim it denied.[120]

Jamming of Radio and Television Broadcasts

The Ethiopian government completely controls the content of radio and television broadcasts that emanate from inside the country. The government owns the majority of these broadcasters and what few private stations exist avoid sensitive topics or are kept under control by threats against staff, regulatory challenges, refusal of advertisers to advertise, and other measures. For those stations that broadcast either on satellite or from transmitters outside of the country (including Voice of America and Deutsche Welle), Ethiopia occasionally deliberately jams these broadcasts, preventing people inside Ethiopia from accessing these stations. Given the importance of radio in rural areas, this limits individual’s access to information and independent, reliable, and critical analysis.

Radio jamming has a lengthy history in Ethiopia, but the practice increased in 2009 with the government particularly jamming both VOA and DW.[121] In 2010 the late prime minister Meles Zenawi notoriously stated in response to a question from a VOA reporter about jamming that “we have for some time now been trying to beef up our capacity to deal with this, including … jamming.” He also compared the VOA broadcasts to the Rwandan radio station Mille Collines, which was implicated in inciting genocide in 1994, calling VOA broadcasts “destabilizing propaganda.”[122]

Government jamming increases at politically sensitive times, including around elections. It increased around both the 2005 and 2010 elections with VOA and DW programs sometimes unavailable for several days. A US embassy cable leaked by Wikileaks noted that the incidence of VOA jamming increases “in line with GoE [Government of Ethiopia] protests about VOA content.”[123]

Frequency monitoring carried out by DW in August 2012, in the period just after Meles died, revealed that programming was blocked on at least one of their three frequencies in Ethiopia 60 percent of the time (18 days out of 30). DW was jammed on all three frequencies 30 percent of the time (9 of the 30 days). By contrast, in January 2013 there was no jamming of DW radio transmissions, only for jamming to start again in mid-February 2013.[124] DW reports that the Ethiopian government has not interfered with satellite radio and web-based broadcasts, and that since March 2013 jamming of their radio transmissions had stopped entirely.[125]VOA also reports a similar absence of jamming during this period.[126]

DW regularly engaged with the government to resolve the jamming. According to DW, government representatives told them “that we jam DW on the grounds of national security. DW is a threat to our national security.”[127] The US government publicly criticized the jamming of VOA in March 2010, stating that the “decision to jam VOA broadcasts contradicts the Government of Ethiopia’s frequent public commitments to freedom of the press.”[128]

Between 2010 and 2012 Ethiopian Satellite Television,[129] a popular diaspora-run satellite television station, reported being frequently jammed, but there has been no jamming since October 2012.[130] ESAT’s shortwave radio broadcasts are routinely jammed and ESAT’s website was also blocked as of August 2013.[131]

The Oromia Media Network has reported being jammed twice since its March 2014 startup. On each occasion, jamming occurred for several days until OMN was taken off of that satellite.[132] When the government chooses to jam a station on a satellite provider, this has the unintended outcome of jamming many of the other stations that also use that satellite. For example, when Ethiopia jammed OMN it also inadvertently jammed other channels on Saudi-based Arabsat including the British Broadcasting Corporation.[133] Satellite providers identified the source of the jamming as coming from northeast Ethiopia.[134] It was not the first time Ethiopia had inadvertently blocked other satellite stations—in early 2012 reports suggested that jamming originating from Ethiopia was responsible for stations hosted on Arabsat being blocked as far away as Lebanon. This prompted a complaint from Lebanese authorities.[135]

Techniques to get around jamming are expensive and out of reach of all but the largest international media outlets.

As the Ethiopian economy grows and the middle class expands, more and more Ethiopians are turning to OMN, ESAT, and other foreign television stations for access to independent information on Ethiopian affairs.[136]

These practices put these satellite providers in a difficult situation: if they agree to host a channel that could be jammed, this endangers all its other programming on that satellite. As a result, satellite providers have required increased security deposits or other guarantees should they host foreign stations that are at risk of jamming from Ethiopian authorities. This has further increased the cost of setting up a television station. Several satellite providers have told ESAT that the Ethiopian government has contacted them to pressure them not to host ESAT.[137]

In addition to restricting freedom of expression and access to information, the deliberate jamming of commercial radio and television broadcasts contravenes International Telecommunication Union (ITU) regulations.[138]

Restricting Online Content

While online media is still in its infancy in Ethiopia, many Ethiopians living both inside and outside the country have turned to online news sites and blogs for access to information and perspectives that are unavailable through domestic media and also to express themselves without having to self-censor their tone or content. Many of them do this anonymously or under pseudonyms to protect themselves from possible government reprisals.

In response, the government of Ethiopia regularly blocks media websites that contain critical content. Popular diaspora media websites including Ethiomedia, Goolgule, Ethiopian Review, and Nazret are all unavailable inside Ethiopia.[139] Many blogsites offering Ethiopian content are also blocked inside of Ethiopia. The vast majority of blocked sites are those that focus exclusively on Ethiopian content and are run by Ethiopian organizations or individuals (either in Ethiopia or in the diaspora), although both Al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya have been blocked in Ethiopia at different times following critical news coverage.[140] In May 2012 Al-Jazeera’s website and YouTube channel were briefly blocked following a documentary that was critical of Ethiopia’s handling of the Muslim protests. On August 2, 2012, Al-Jazeera’s website was once again blocked the day an Al-Jazeera program appeared online that was critical of Ethiopia’s handling of Muslim issues.[141]Three days prior to the blocking another article appeared on Al-Jazeera about clashes in southern Ethiopia.[142] Videos uploaded on YouTube that showed police using excessive force against protesters during the Muslim protests were also blocked.[143]

Ever since the arrest in April 2014 and prosecution of the Zone 9 bloggers, individuals told Human Rights Watch of increased self-censorship on blogs, Facebook, and other social media platforms. People also reported pressure to censor blogsites and Facebook postings. This usually comes from either threatening messages on Facebook (often from unknown persons), or harassing phone calls or visits from security officials.

Whereas online media could provide access to new ideas and sharing of experiences as it has in many parts of the world, in Ethiopia, the government is using what means it has available to restrict any online content that is perceived to harm the interests of the government or ruling party.

 

VI. Other Controls on the Media

The Ethiopian government uses various other controls to restrict the freedom of the press.

Journalism Associations and Freedom of Association

Since January 30, 2014, when independent journalists attempted to establish the Ethiopian Journalists Forum (EJF) with a mandate to “protect and promote Ethiopian journalists” and assist in “defending the freedom of speech and of the press,” executives of the proposed association have faced continual harassment and security problems.[144] While some of the problems arise out of their work as journalists, some appear connected to their efforts to form an independent association. Executive committee members regularly received phone calls from security officials after EJF events. State-run media also regularly published articles suggesting that the journalists involved with the EJF had been planning to commit terrorist acts and were communicating with banned organizations.[145] Based on these articles, many journalists avoided participating in EJF activities, fearful of being associated with the organization.

The association also had difficulties registering with the Ethiopian Charities and Societies Agency (CSO Agency). One executive committee member told Human Rights Watch:

Someone from the CSO Agency called me and wanted to speak with me. I went to the office to speak to that person. He was not from the CSO Agency after all as he had said. He showed me his ID card, he was an intelligence officer…. He asked about the June 22, 2014 panel discussion on press freedom I organized and told me: “This is the last warning. You will not get a license. The time is coming that if you continue the activities of the association you will end up like the other [Zone 9] bloggers and journalists. We have much information about you and the association. We also obtained detail about you from those who detained individuals in Maekelawi. So you have to stop the association activity and nobody will license the EJF because we know who you and your colleagues are. Otherwise be ready to take the coming final risk of you.”[146]

 

Several days later, the CSO Agency announced on ETV state media that EJF was “illegal and not allowed to act as a legal organization.” No legitimate reason was given by the CSO Agency for not registering the EJF.[147]

After speaking on Voice of America on February 4, 2014, security officials questioned two executive committee members at their office about EJF’s sources of funding. The committee members said that at the meeting security officials instructed them not to proceed with EJF’s formation, otherwise authorities would accuse them of supporting terrorism and have them arrested.[148] Shortly thereafter two executive committee members fled Ethiopia. The EJF is no longer operational.

There are several other media professional associations in Ethiopia,[149]but many are aligned with the government. The Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation states: “Journalists have a right to organize themselves into professional associations of their choice.” The problems faced by the EJF were not the first time that independent media associations have had difficulties with Ethiopian security. For example, the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA) was regularly subject to harassments, threats, and arrest before its leaders fled the country in 2005.[150]

Lack of Government Response to Private Journalists

Many journalists, from both private and state-affiliated media, report having difficulties getting government officials to comment on their stories. Private publications told Human Rights Watch that this often makes their stories appear unbalanced with quotes from opposition parties but nothing from government officials. An editor of a private magazine said, “We want to get government perspectives, we want to be balanced, but they do not respond to us. I don’t know if it is because they are scared or because they want to eventually show that we are not balanced in our coverage.… But we try.”[151]

In many cases, junior government officials do not speak to the media for fear of saying something politically damaging. As a former official put it, “Many of us have the same fear as journalists, if we say something wrong we are disciplined. If we stray from the government rhetoric we are disciplined. We also don’t know how the media will twist what we say, so we are hesitant to speak too much in case we have problems because of it.”[152]

 

The editor-in-chief of one private publication said that government officials told him “they don’t want to be associated with our magazines because they are seen as pro-opposition.”[153]

 

A journalist with the state-affiliated Sendek newspaper described one incident:

We wrote a story on the US State Department’s human rights report [on Ethiopia]. We wanted quotes from government but they refused to comment on that report. I did have quotes form opposition groups though. In the end, the piece was heavily censored by my editor because it appeared unbalanced.”[154]

Government Organized Training Sessions

A number of journalists from both state-affiliated and private outlets described to Human Rights Watch being “encouraged” to participate in the Ministry of Federal Affairs training programs. One journalist told Human Rights Watch:

We get some training from Ministry of Federal Affairs, often directly in Shiferaw’s [the federal affairs minister’s] office. I went to this five times. We’re not forced, but we know what will happen if we don’t go. Basically we go there and they just criticize all of our papers: “Why do you print this, this is not good. Why do you always write bad things about the government?” Then they tell us what we should write which is all about promoting the government’s development agenda and its policies and perspectives. We only are to mention development successes and promote the new roads and schools. The course name changes, sometimes: “good journalism for development;” other times “developmental journalism.” Shiferaw is always there at the beginning and the end to set the tone.[155]

Recruitment of Informants

Other journalists describe being pressured by security officials to become informants against other journalists. Some report once they began snooping on their colleagues the pressure stopped. Said one journalist, “I felt horrible about doing it, but I couldn’t take the pressure anymore, if I provided information on their background, their sources, and their whereabouts then my family and I could live in peace.”[156] This approach has resulted in journalists not trusting each other, being suspicious of colleagues when pressure on those colleagues from government lessened, and less discussion about the common challenges facing journalists.

VII. Applicable National and International Law

Freedom of speech and the media are essential rights in a democratic society. The ability to practice journalism free from undue interference, to peacefully criticize government representatives, and to express critical views are crucial to the exercise of many other rights and freedoms.

Under Ethiopia’s constitution and international law, the Ethiopian government is obligated to respect the right to freedom of expression, including media freedom. Ethiopia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),[157] which under article 19 imposes legal obligations on states to protect freedom of expression and information:

Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference;… Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.[158]

The ICCPR, in article 19(3), permits governments to impose certain restrictions or limitations on freedom of expression, if such restrictions are provided by law and are necessary: (a) for respect of the rights or reputations of others; or (b) for the protection of national security, public order, public health, or morals.[159]

The UN Human Rights Committee, the independent expert body that monitors state compliance with the ICCPR, in its General Comment No. 34 on the right to freedom of expression, states that the restrictions specified in article 19(3) should be interpreted narrowly and that the restrictions “may not put in jeopardy the right itself.”[160] The government may impose restrictions only if they are prescribed by existing legislation and meet the standard of being “necessary in a democratic society.” This implies that the limitation must respond to a pressing public need and be oriented along the basic democratic values of pluralism and tolerance. “Necessary” restrictions must also be proportionate, that is, balanced against the specific need for the restriction being put in place. General Comment No. 34 also provides that “restrictions must not be overbroad” and that “the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high in the circumstances of public debate in a democratic society concerning figures in the public and political domain.”[161]

In applying a limitation, the government should use no more restrictive means than are absolutely required. The lawfulness of government restrictions on speech and the dissemination of information are thus subject to considerations of proportionality and necessity. So, for example, the government may prohibit media procurement and dissemination of military secrets, but restrictions on freedom of expression to protect national security “are permissible only in serious cases of political or military threat to the entire nation.” Since restrictions based on protection of national security have the potential to completely undermine freedom of expression, “particularly strict requirements must be placed on the necessity (proportionality) of a given statutory restriction.”[162]

With respect to criticism of government officials, the Human Rights Committee has stated that in circumstances of public debate concerning public figures, “the value placed by the Covenant upon uninhibited expression is particularly high.” The “mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.” Thus, “all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.” [163]

In addition, the Human Rights Committee has said that “defamation laws must be crafted with care to ensure that they … do not serve, in practice, to stifle freedom of expression.… States parties should consider the decriminalization of defamation and, in any case, the application of the criminal law should only be countenanced in the most serious of cases and imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty.” [164]

Ethiopia is also a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights,[165]which in article 9 states that “every individual shall have the right to receive information,” and “every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.” The African Commission’s 2002 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa sets out regional norms guaranteeing free expression. The African Commission has held that governments should not enact provisions that limit freedom of expression “in a manner that override constitutional provisions or undermine fundamental rights guaranteed by the [Charter] and other international human rights documents.”[166]

Ethiopian Law

Article 29 of the Ethiopian constitution of 1995 provides strong protections for freedom of opinion and expression and underscores the importance of the independence of the media.[167] The constitution includes a prohibition on censorship and affirms the need for access to information of public interest.[168] It also states that “the press shall, as an institution enjoy legal protection to ensure its operational independence and its capacity to entertain diverse opinions.”[169] It notes the importance of media “financed by or under the control of the State … to entertain diversity in the expression of opinions.”[170]

However, article 29 also contains some qualifications to media freedom that are contrary to international law. While the constitution provides that imitations to freedom of expression cannot be based “on account of the content or effect of the point of view expressed,”[171] the limitations included in article 29 contain several overly vague provisions that are vulnerable to broad and abusive interpretation. Limiting freedom of expression in the interest of protecting “the well-being of the youth, and the honour and reputation of individuals,” is one such provision. Article 29 also allows for limitations on “the public expression of opinion intended to injure human dignity,” an ill-defined concept that is vague and prone to misuse.[172]

Laws Regulating the Media

Broadcasting Service Proclamation and Mass Media Law

Ethiopia has several laws and directives governing the media, including the Broadcasting Service Proclamation and the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation of 2008 (“Mass Media Law”). While both laws reaffirm constitutional protections and prohibition of censorship, they also contain problematic provisions that grant broad powers to initiate defamation suits, impose harsh financial penalties, demand corrections in print publications, and empower government to arbitrarily deny licenses and permits.

The Mass Media Law states that defamation and false accusation against “constitutionally mandated legislators, executives and judiciaries will be a matter of the government and prosecutable even if the person against whom they were committed chooses not to press charge.”[173] As a result, journalists can be prosecuted for defamation by government even when no individual government official initiates legal action. Fines are also very high for defamation, as high as 100,000 Ethiopian birr (US$5,000).[174] Article 613 of the Criminal Code also allows penalties of a fine or up to one year in prison for defamation.[175]

The Mass Media Law also contains overly broad and discretionary provisions that force publications to publish apologies or corrections from government without defining the limits of this requirement.[176]

While ostensibly providing for improved access to information, the Mass Media Law puts a number of restrictions in place that actually hinder access to information. It provides too much discretion to government officials, allowing them to use a variety of clauses to deny access to government information including “on the pretext that the request will place an individual in jeopardy; harm commercial activities or financial welfare; or negatively impact policy, national security, or international relations.”[177]

The law does not directly authorize censorship, but the threats of politically motivated defamation suits, high fines, and difficulty in acquiring permits effectively limit what the private press is willing to print. It is not clear if this law also applies to online content.

Broadcasting Service Proclamation

The Broadcasting Service Proclamation of 2007 empowers the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority to regulate radio broadcasters—state-run, commercial (private), and community-based. Concerns persist about the independence of the EBA. While the EBA is established as “an autonomous federal agency having its own legal personality,” it is legally accountable to the Ministry of Information, which as of 2008 is the Government Communications Affairs Office.

The EBA is empowered, among other responsibilities, to “[e]nsure that the broadcasting service is conducted in such a manner that contributes to the proper social, economic, political and cultural development of the country.”[178] This is overly broad and far exceeds international norms and best practices on media regulation.

The Broadcasting Service Proclamation also states that public broadcasting service shall “enhance the participation of the public through the presentation of government policies and strategies as well as activities related to development, democracy and good governance.”[179] This clause is absent in the law for commercial (private) broadcasters, however the community broadcasting service shall among other things “carry out its activities based on the needs of the community regarding development, education and good governance.”[180]There are also limitations on broadcasting licenses being granted to “an organization of a political organization or of which a political organization is a shareholder or a member of a political organization’s supreme leadership is a shareholder or member of its management at any level.”[181] Restricting licenses only to organizations without political connections is contrary to constitutional provisions about the freedom of the media. As previously discussed, licensing and regulation of the broadcast media in Ethiopia is prone to politicization.

Additional Legislation

Other problematic laws include the Advertisement Proclamation, which gives government arbitrary and broad control over the regulation of advertising. The law states that one of the intents of advertising is to “protect the dignity and interests of the country” and does not permit advertisement that “instigates chaos, violence, terror, conflict or fear among people.”[182] These overly broad and discretionary terms can be used by government to control advertisement that does not promote government rhetoric or perspectives. It also prevents advertisements from firms “whose capital is shared by foreign nationals,”[183] limiting the ability of publications to freely decide who it is willing to accept as an advertiser and depriving publications of much needed foreign revenue.[184]

The courts have convicted many journalists under Ethiopia’s criminal code. The criminal code includes provisions for “participation in crimes by the mass media.” This overly broad section outlines criminal responsibility for the content of periodicals, holding printers, publishers, and distributors liable in certain situations. One clause holds the importer of foreign published periodicals liable for content of those publications.[185] The law also has broad and vague provisions around disclosure of sources.[186]

Various sections of the criminal code are regularly misused to charge journalists, with penalties that can range from 3 to 25 years. The most commonly used sections against journalists include defamation (article 613), attacks against the state (article 244), inciting the public through false rumors (article 486), and “outrages against the Constitution or the Constitutional Order” (article 238). The death penalty and life imprisonment are sentences available under article 238.

Article 486(a) states: “Whoever … starts or spreads false rumours, suspicions or false charges against the Government or the public authorities or their activities, thereby disturbing or inflaming public opinion, or creating a danger of public disturbances … is punishable.” This over-broadly worded section has been interpreted widely and used by the authorities to charge journalists who report on stories that are critical of government including against the owners of the magazines that were charged in 2014.[187]

In addition to being charged under the criminal code, journalists have also been charged under the repressive anti-terrorism law. The anti-terrorism law is easily subject to abuse with its overly broad and vague definition of terrorist acts and a definition of “encouragement of terrorism” that makes the publication of statements “likely to be understood as encouraging terrorist acts” punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison.[188] The authorities have prosecuted journalists publishing opinions or criticisms of government policy for encouraging terrorism. Since 2011 at least 12 journalists have been convicted under this law.

VIII. Ethiopian Government Response

Ethiopia’s usual response to criticism of its stance on media freedom is to quote its strong constitutional provisions about freedom of the press. Senior Ethiopian government officials, including the prime minister, often speak to press freedom NGOs and international publications in very strong terms about the imprisonment of high-profile journalists described in this report. The typical response is to reference the constitutional provisions and to stress the rule of law and reiterate allegations of involvement of journalists with “terrorist networks.” There is rarely an acknowledgement of restrictions on press freedoms.

For example, the head of the Government Communications Affairs Office, Redwan Hussein, spoke harshly about imprisoned journalist Reeyot Alemu winning the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2013: “No one convicted by a sovereign nation as a terrorist could be glorified and awarded with awards. That is an insult to the sovereignty of the nation…. They have not been accused for their writings … it is because they were guilty of working with terrorists.”[189]

There have been repeated denials that journalists are being targeted for prosecution. Following the 18-year-sentence handed down to Eskinder Nega in October 2012, then-head of the GCAO, Bereket Simon, stated: “But to start with the facts, you know, in the first place no practicing journalists in this manner had been summoned or charged because of his journalistic practices. None of them were sued or charged because of journalistic practices.”[190]

The government regularly defends the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and its application against journalists. In a meeting with the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2012, Bereket reportedly said: “We in the government so far have not invoked this anti-terrorism law against any individual journalist…. It’s not an instrument for censorship, for stifling dissent, or for attacking press freedom; it is an instrument that ultimately shall be used to protect Ethiopians enjoying their constitutional rights.”[191]

Following criticism of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation by Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Bereket told Bloomberg News: “Ethiopia clearly differentiates between freedom of expression and terrorism … is simply a very wrong defense of foreign journalists who have been caught red-handed when assisting terrorists.”[192]

The arrest of the Zone 9 bloggers saw a spate of statements from government officials on the involvement of the bloggers with groups the government considers to be terrorist organizations. For example, in July 2014, following the charging of the bloggers, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn stated: “Anyone who is seen and acting within this terrorist network … will be eligible for the course of law…. When you put yourself into this network and you try to become a blogger, don’t think that you are going to escape from the Ethiopian government.”[193]

Concerning the closing down of the six publications in 2014, GCAO chief Redwan told the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on September 24, 2014, that “the journalists had no justification to run away as they were not charged.” According to the IFJ statement, Redwan “reiterated the commitment of the Ethiopian government to respect the diversity of thoughts as long as ethical journalism is exercised. He said Ethiopia’s democracy is based on accepting and acknowledging ethnic, religious and ideological differences and this is manifested in the Constitution which everyone should uphold.”[194] Shortly thereafter, the authorities charged many of the owners and publishers of those publications.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the government of Ethiopia regarding the findings in this report. No response was received.

IX. International Response

Ethiopia enjoys a strong relationship with a variety of regional, Western, and other bilateral and multilateral donors due to its perceived strong advances in development, relative lack of corruption, economic progress, its role as host of the African Union, as a key security partner, and in regional peacekeeping operations. As a result, the international community’s public criticism of Ethiopia’s worsening human rights record has been minimal. Some governments say that human rights issues are best raised by quiet diplomacy alone, arguing that public condemnations are counter-productive. The trajectory of Ethiopia’s rights record over the past decade, however, does not indicate that quiet diplomacy has been effective.

UN human rights special procedures and experts have provided a rare and consistent source of condemnation of Ethiopia’s growing repression, and particularly the government’s use of the anti-terrorism law against the media. The Human Rights Committee’s 2011 Concluding Observations on Ethiopia’s report on its compliance with the ICCPR expressed concern for provisions of the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation, in particular the registration requirements for newspapers, the severe penalties for criminal defamation, and the inappropriate application of this law in the fight against terrorism, as illustrated by the closure of many newspapers and legal charges brought against journalists. The committee said that the government should revise its legislation to ensure that any limitations on the rights to freedom of expression strictly comply with article 19, and in particular it should “review the registration requirements for newspapers and ensure that media are free from harassment and intimidation.”[195]

In September 2014, five UN Special Rapporteurs expressed concern over the use of the anti-terrorism law to curb freedom of expression.[196] In July 2012, then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay voiced concern over “the precarious situation of journalists [in Ethiopia].”[197] In May 2011 a group of six independent UN experts wrote concerning the cases of imprisoned journalists in Ethiopia,[198]and in February 2012 a number of UN experts expressed concern at the “persistent misuse of [the] terrorism law to curb freedom of expression” citing the cases of imprisoned Eskinder Nega, Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson, and others.[199] And in November 2012 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that the detention of Eskinder Nega is arbitrary, and that charges against him resulted from his “use of his free expression rights and activities as a human rights defender.”[200]

African human rights institutions have also been critical of Ethiopia’s restrictions on freedom of expression and the prosecutions of journalists. In April/May 2012 the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted a resolution on Ethiopia stating it was “gravely alarmed by the arrest and prosecutions of journalists and political opposition members, charged with terrorism and other offences, including treason, for exercising their peaceful and legitimate rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.” A case is also before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the legality of the conviction of to Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu.[201]

During Ethiopia’s 2014 Universal Periodic Review, the governments of South Korea, Germany, Chile, Canada, Denmark, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Australia, and Austria recommended that the government of Ethiopia “guarantee genuine freedom of expression to all political leaders and the media, in light of the next elections” and several states called for reforms of the anti-terrorism law.[202] Major donors the United Kingdom and the United States did not raise freedom of expression concerns.

X. Elections in 2015

The year leading up to Ethiopia’s May 2015 elections should have been characterized by a vibrant and independent media contributing to the exchange of information, ideas, and perspectives on issues relevant to Ethiopian citizens of all political persuasions. Instead, private publications have closed down and two dozen Ethiopia’s private journalists and bloggers are in prison, unable to contribute in any way to the political discourse that will shape the credibility of the elections in May 2015. Many others have fled the country, where their ability to contribute to discussions within Ethiopia is sharply curtailed.

Other avenues for open, constructive political dialogue have been severely and deliberately restricted since the 2010 elections by a government more concerned with cracking down on dissent than in ensuring an open and vibrant space for freedom of expression and opinion. It is crucial that a vibrant and independent media be allowed to flourish in Ethiopia, as provided by the constitution, to create space within which political dialogue can happen in a constructive and peaceful manner. Only then can future elections be deemed credible and in line with international standards.

Acknowledgments

This report was researched and written by Felix Horne, Africa researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. It was edited by Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director. James Ross, legal and policy director, and Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director, provided legal and program review respectively.

Jamie Vernaelde, senior coordinator in the Africa division, provided production assistance and support. The report was prepared for publication by Grace Choi, publications director, Kathy Mills, publications specialist, and Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.

Tom Rhodes, East Africa Representative, Committee to Protect Journalists, provided external review of the report.

Human Rights Watch would like to thank all of the individuals who shared their experiences for this report despite concerns of government reprisals.

Internet and its enemies: 36 out of 65 assessed countries show decline in internet freedom, 41 passed or proposed new laws to curb It. #Ethiopia. #Africa January 6, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in 10 best Youtube videos, 25 killer Websites that make you cleverer, Africa, African Internet Censorship, Ethiopia & World Press Index 2014, Facebook and Africa, Internet Freedom.
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mapofinternetfreedom

January 6, 2015 (Dazeinfo) — Amid all those talks of an overwhelmingly large majority of people (83%) wanting to make the right to access the internet at affordable prices a basic human right, most of us do not bother to look beyond getting connected to the net. Without undermining the importance of being connected to the internet, there is no doubting the need to ensure freedom over the internet.

Sadly enough, internet freedom has fallen for the fourth consecutive year in wake of more and more countries introducing belligerent and often offensive online censorship measures while others tightened the noose and made their existing measures in regard to the same more rigorous.

The fifth annual Freedom on the Net 2014 report released by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization, tracks the developments between May 2013 and May 2014 and observed that out of the 65 assessed countries, 36 have shown a negative trajectory in 2014.

Key Findings of the Freedom on the Net 2014 Report

It has been observed that an increasing number of countries are now giving legal sanction to laws that curb internet freedom, in total contrast with the previous government policy of controlling the internet using invisible strings.

Expressing dissent with the government policy or not toeing their line in the online space can invite legal action now, due to which more and more individuals and media outlets are under pressure to either censor their online behavior or face legal action and, in extreme cases, even arrest.

That is in addition to blocking and filtering of content which are among the most common means of online censorship. Imprisoning those who put up ‘undesirable’ content is being seen by governments as a deterrent and, according to them, encourages self-censorship.

 

wherenointernetfreedom

At the same time, the use of physical violence against internet users ‘appears to have decreased in scope,’ says the report.

Of the 65 countries being assessed, 36 showed a decline in the degree of Internet freedom since May 2013.
Five countries with the most and least internet freedom were depicted in the form of a chart by the online statistics portal, Statista:

Iran, Syria and China were confirmed as the worst abusers of internet freedom in the world- a dubious honor for them! Countries wishing to impose more restrictions (like Iran, Belarus and Uzbekistan) often cite China as an example!
Iceland was ranked as the country with the highest degree of internet freedom. Five more countries which were appreciated in this regard are Estonia, Canada, Australia, Germany and the United States.
41 countries passed or proposed new laws to penalize expressing of views over the internet, to increase the surveillance capabilities of the governments or to increase the powers of the government to control the content which get published online.
Very few countries recorded an improvement in the degree of freedom over the internet.
India and Brazil were among those few nations where some curbs were taken off. Belarus also eased some restrictions.
Concern was shown over both democratic and authoritarian governments seeking to curb the freedom of the internet.
Penalty for online expression in some countries is worse than for similar expression off the internet.
19 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance or to restrict user anonymity.
The number of people detained or prosecuted for their online behavior touched a record high, surpassing all previous figures.
Among those prosecuted, online journalists and bloggers covering anti-government demonstrations were among the prime targets.
Women all over the world “face immense cultural and socio-economic barriers to ICT access, resulting in significant gender gap in ICT use.
The LGBTI community also faces great threats and harassment over the internet.
With more and more internet users beginning to guard their online privacy, “malware attacks against government critics and human rights organizations have evolved to take on a more personalized character.”
Shocking Instances of Curbs on Internet Freedom across the World!

There have been many instances of internet freedom being curbed all over the world. And it is not only surprising but also shocking that even the so-called ‘democratic’ countries have not been liberal with their internet access policy. Some incidents which sent shock waves across everyone’s spines during the period covered by the report are:

The Russian government enacted a law to crack down on all online media which criticized the Vladimir Putin’s policy toward Kremlin without any judicial oversight. Three major news sites were blocked within six weeks as a result of this law.
One of the worst offenders, Iran, does not allow its citizens to access social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. Those promoting Sufism online were made to serve long prison sentences. Six Iranians who recorded a video of them dancing to Pharrell’s song “Happy” and posted it on YouTube (the video later went viral) were punished with 91 lashes each and six months of imprisonment. The director was ‘awarded’ a full year.
A new law in Ethiopia allows the government to snoop into computers, networks, internet sites, social media platforms, television and radio stations “for any possible damage to the country’s social, economic, political and psychological well-being”, citing that blogs, social media sites and other digital media have the potential to “instigate war, to damage the country’s image and create havoc in the economic atmosphere of the country.”
Governments in Turkey, Thailand, Russia, Kazakhstan and Italy allow agencies controlled by them to block content with no judicial oversight and with little or no transparency at all.
Uzbekistan passed a law requiring owners of cybercafés to record browsing history of customers for three months.
The draconian ‘bloggers law’ passed by the Russian government in May 2014 increased government surveillance of social media users by making it mandatory for anyone having sites or pages which draw more than 3,000 daily views to register with the telecommunications regulator.
A blogger in Ethiopia was sentenced to an 18 year term while six more await a trial for expressing dissent over government policies or actions over the internet.
News site editors in Azerbaijan were arrested and implicated under charges of hooliganism or drug possession.
Kavita Krishnan, a women’s rights activist in India, was harassed online by someone using the handle @RAPIST.
Mukhlif al-Shammari who posted a YouTube video about mistreatment of females in Saudi Arabia was jailed for five years.
Egyptian government used an application called Grindr to track and prosecute men belonging to the homosexual community. Russian and Ugandan governments also usedonline tools and malware to lure people belonging to this community and then harassed them.
In June 2013, a woman in Pakistan was stoned to death by local men after she was found guilty of possessing a mobile phone by the tribal court!
Iceland, which boasts of a 97% internet access, has no restrictions over the use of social sites and the government does not block any content was presented as a noteworthy example.

Sanja Kelly, Freedom House’s project director for Freedom on the Net, explained that governments are finding new and less detectable manners to control free speech online

“As authoritarian rulers see that blocked websites and high-profile arrests draw local and international condemnation, they are turning to murkier – but no less dangerous – methods for controlling online conversations”, says Sanjay.

Though it is important to ensure that the internet becomes accessible for a larger number of people, mere access to it will be no good if the government makes it an additional channel for snooping over its citizens or the users are threatened, harassed, discredited, punished or imprisoned for not bowing to the rulers’ diktats.

Read more @ http://ayyaantuu.com/horn-of-africa-news/36-out-of-65-assessed-countries-show-decline-in-internet-freedom-41-passed-or-proposed-new-laws-to-curb-it/

Repressive Ethiopia comes out as the worst place in #Africa for internet freedom. #BecauseIAmOromo December 21, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in 10 best Youtube videos, Afar, Africa, African Internet Censorship, Amnesty International's Report: Because I Am Oromo, Because I am Oromo, Ethiopia's Colonizing Structure and the Development Problems of People of Oromia, Ethnic Cleansing, Facebook and Africa, Free development vs authoritarian model, Genocidal Master plan of Ethiopia, Groups at risk of arbitrary arrest in Oromia: Amnesty International Report, Internet Freedom, Ogaden, Sidama, Southern Ethiopia and the Omo Valley, The Tyranny of TPLF Ethiopia.
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OEnemies of Internetinternet freedom

http://mashable.com/2014/12/17/internet-freedom-countries/

 

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and founder of the Web Foundation, has called for the Internet to be recognised as a basic human right.  Sir Tim noted that in our increasingly unequal world, the Web has the potential to be a great equalizer, but only “if we hardwire the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, affordable access and net neutrality into the rules of the game.”

In order to reverse this slide and leverage the power of technology to fight inequality, the Web Foundation is calling on policymakers to:

  • Accelerate progress towards universal access by increasing access to affordable Internet and ensuring that everyone can use the Web all of the time, safely, freely and privately.
  • Level the playing field by preventing price discrimination in Internet traffic, and treating the Internet like any other public utility.
  • Invest in high-quality public education for all to ensure that technological progress doesn’t leave some groups behind.
  • Promote participation in democracy and protect freedom of opinion by reversing the erosion of press freedom and civil liberties, using the Web to increase government transparency, and protecting the freedoms of speech, association, and privacy.
  • Create opportunities for women and poor and marginalised groups by investing more in ICTs to overcome key barriers in health, education, agriculture and gender equity.

http://thewebindex.org/blog/recognise-the-internet-as-a-human-right-says-sir-tim-berners-lee-as-he-launches-annual-web-index/

Internet freedom in Africa: Ethiopia and The Gambia most repressive; South Africa and Kenya freest

  ChristineMungaihttp://www.mgafrica.com/article/2014-12-11-internet-freedom-in-africa-ethiopia-and-the-gambia-most-repressive-south-africa-and-kenya-freest/

ETHIOPIA, The Gambia and Sudan are some of the most repressive places in Africa for online freedom, a new report by watchdog organisation Freedom House indicates, while South Africa and Kenya are the among the most free for internet users in the continent.

But the 12 African countries surveyed show a worrying trend – the majority are becoming more repressive compared to last year. Just South Africa – the best ranked – Kenya, Uganda and Malawi have maintained the same score as last year; Nigeria, Angola, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Ethiopia have deteriorated. Zambia and The Gambia are new entrants on the list this year.

The negative trajectory in internet freedom is mirrored around the world – the report states that in 36 of the 65 countries surveyed, internet freedom scores have become worse, as governments become increasingly nervous about their national security, and more sophisticated in surveillance and control.

“Very few countries registered any gains in internet freedom, and the improvements that were recorded largely reflected less vigorous application of existing internet controls compared with the previous year, rather than genuinely new and positive steps taken [by governments],” the report states.

Although most African countries do not explicitly censor content much, there has been an increasingly harsh manner in which users are targeted for the things they say online – in some countries, Freedom House reports, “the penalties for online expression are worse than those for similar actions offline”.

A higher score means a more repressive environment. Source: Freedom House

In July 2013, for example, the Gambian government passed amendments to the Information and Communication Act that specifically criminalised the use of the internet to criticise, impersonate, or spread false news about public officials. Anyone found guilty could face up to 15 years in prison, fines of roughly $100,000, or both—significantly harsher punishments than what the criminal code prescribes for the equivalent offenses offline.

The report reveals that breaches in cybersecurity are also eroding freedom, as government critics and human rights organisations are subject to increasingly sophisticated and personalised malware attacks, documented in 32 of the 65 countries examined.

Low internet penetration, state monopoly

Ethiopia comes out as the worst place in Africa for internet freedom. In the first place, lack of telecoms infrastructure, government monopoly and oppressive regulation means that internet penetration is just 2%, one of the lowest in Africa.

A law enacted in November 2013 gives the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) carte blanche to inspect private online activities without oversight. Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, and CNN were inaccessible for 12 hours in July 2013, while the number of permanently blocked webpages also increased.

In the Gambia, as well as setting out punitive new laws, internet cafe registration regulations were tightened in September 2013, requiring operators to provide thorough details for a license, as well as mandating the physical layout of cafes and the signs that must be displayed.

In Nigeria too, cybercafés have to keep a log of their customers – although the mobile revolution means that these attempts at controlling internet use will become increasingly irrelevant.

But if you can’t control access, then persecution and punishment becomes the next measure – and African governments show remarkable sophistication here.

In Ethiopia, the government launched high-tech surveillance malware against several online journalists in the Ethiopian diaspora and dissidents in exile; six bloggers of the prominent Zone9 blogging collective were arrested in April 2014 on charges of terrorism.

This year shows a more repressive environment than last year in many countries. Source: Freedom House

The same was observed in Angola, where “insider sources” affirmed that a German company had assisted the Angolan military intelligence in installing a sophisticated communications monitoring system on a military base, the report states. Further evidence, as of November 2013, found that at least one major ISP hosts a spyware system directly on its server.

In Rwanda, a growing number of independent online news outlets and opposition blogs were intermittently inaccessible in Rwanda in the past year. The Law Relating to the Interception of Communications enacted in October authorised high-ranking security officials to monitor email and telephone conversations of individuals considered potential threats to “public security”.

In Sudan, a localised internet service disruption in June and a nationwide blackout in September corresponded with large anti-government protests; the blackouts were reportedly directed by the government.

Even in the countries ranked as relatively free, harassment and intimidation of journalists and bloggers – and even ordinary citizens – is a widespread form of internet control. In Malawi online journalists are “periodically detained and prosecuted for articles posted on news websites”.

Most recently, Justice Mponda,  a correspondent for the online publication Malawi Voice, was arrested in November 2013 for allegedly “intimidating the royal family” in an investigative story about former President Banda’s connection to the theft of millions of Malawian kwacha from government coffers in a scandal known as “Cashgate.”  He was later acquitted.

Mugabe’s digital ‘death’

But it’s Zimbabwe that has had some of the most bizarre persecutions. An editor at the Sunday Mail state newspaper, Edmund Kudakwashe Kudzayi, was arrested in June on accusations of running the Baba Jukwa Facebook account, an activist page of over half a million followers harshly critical of the government. In July, the government took down the facebook page, and Kudzayi’s case remains unresolved.

It gets crazier – in January 2014, teenage Facebook user Gumisai Manduwa was arrested for allegedly insulting the president after he posted on his Facebook page that President Mugabe “had died and was being preserved in a freezer.” Manduwa was released on bail two days after his arrest. His case remains on the court’s docket as of mid-2014.

And another court case, this one against 21-year old Shantel Rusike is still being dragged through the magistrate courts in Bulawayo as of mid-2014.

Rusike was arrested on December 24, 2012 and held for four days after she was reported to the police for sending an image depicting President Mugabe “in a nude state” via WhatsApp on her mobile phone. Rusike faces charges of “causing hatred, contempt or ridicule of the president”.

Ethiopia
2013                                                                        2014
Internet Freedom Status                   Not Free                                                                Not Free

Obstacles to Access (0-25)                22                                                                                23
Limits on Content (0-35)                  28                                                                               28
Violations of User Rights (0-40)      29                                                                               29
TOTAL* (0-100)                                  79                                                                               80
* 0=most free, 100=least free

Population: 89.2 million

Internet Penetration 2013:  2 percent
Social Media/ICT Apps Blocked: Yes
Political/Social Content Blocked: Yes
Bloggers/ICT Users Arrested: Yes
Press Freedom 2014 Status: Not Free
Key Developments: May 2013 – May 2014
• Telecom services worsened, characterized by frequently dropped phone calls, prolonged internet service interruptions, and slow response times to service failures (see Obstacles to Access).
• Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, and CNN were inaccessible for 12 hours in July 2013, while the
number of permanently blocked webpages also increased (see Limits on Content).
• A law enacted in November 2013 gives the Information Network Security Agency (INSA)
carte blanche to inspect private online activities without oversight (see Violations of User
Rights).
• The government launched sophisticated surveillance malware against several online journalists
in the Ethiopian diaspora and dissidents in exile (see Violations of User Rights).
• Six bloggers of the prominent Zone9 blogging collective were arrested in April 2014 on
charges of terrorism (see Violations of User Rights).

Introduction
Ethiopia continues to have one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile phone connectivity in the world, as meager infrastructure, government monopoly over the telecommunications sector, and obstructive telecom policies have significantly hindered the growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the country. Coupled with highly repressive laws and tactics aimed at restricting freedom of expression and access to information, internet freedom in Ethiopia is consistently rated the worst in sub-Saharan Africa and among the worst in the world.
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 mostly in the diaspora. Surveillance of mobile phone and internet networks is systematic and widespread, enabled by Chinese-made technology that allows for the interception of SMS text messages, recording of phone calls, and centralized monitoring of online activities. The government also employs commentators and trolls to proactively manipulate the online news and information landscape.
During the report’s coverage period, internet freedom in Ethiopia worsened due to increasing restrictions on access to social media and communications tools, such as Storify, and the temporary blocking of Facebook and Twitter in July 2013. A new law passed in November 2013 gave the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) carte blanche to track private online communications and investigate electronic devices without oversight. In addition, a number of diaspora journalists and exiled dissidents were targeted with surveillance malware, demonstrating a growing level of sophistication in the government’s effort to silence critical voices that extends beyond the country’s borders.
In 2014, the Ethiopian authorities increased their crackdown against bloggers and online journalists, using the country’s harsh laws to prosecute individuals for their online activities and quash dissent. Most alarmingly, six bloggers from the critical Zone9 blogging collective and three journalists associated with Zone9 were arrested in late April 2014 on charges of terrorism, which, under the Telecom Fraud Offenses Law and anti-terrorism proclamation, can entail a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if the bloggers are found guilty. The Zone9 case was repeatedly stalled by the courts throughout 2014, leaving the bloggers in pre-trial detention for over six months as of late-2014. Meanwhile, two online radio journalists were arrested and detained for a week without charges in August 2013, and the prominent dissident blogger, Eskinder Nega, and award-winning journalist, Reeyot Alemu, continue to serve lengthy prison sentences, despite international pressure for their release. The overall crackdown has had a major chilling effect on internet freedom and freedom of expression in the country, leading to increasing levels of self-censorship among online journalists, bloggers, and ordinary users alike.

Obstacles to Access
In 2013 and 2014, access to ICTs in Ethiopia remained extremely limited, hampered by slow speeds and the state’s tight grip on the telecom sector. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), internet penetration stood at a mere 1.9 percent in 2013, up from 1.5 percent in 2012. Only 0.25 percent of the population had access to fixed-broadband internet, increasing from 0.01 percent in 2012.Ethiopians had more access to mobile phone services, with mobile phone penetration rates increasing from 22 percent in 2012 to 27 percent in 2013 though such access rates still lag behind a regional average of 80 percent. Meanwhile, less than 5 percent of the population has a mobile-broadband subscription. Radio remains the principal mass medium through which most Ethiopians stay informed. While access to the internet via mobile phones increased slightly in the last year, prohibitively expensive mobile data packages still posed a significant financial obstacle for the majority of the population in Ethiopia, where per capita income in 2013 stood at US$470.8 Ethiopia’s telecom market is very unsaturated due to monopolistic control, providing customers with few options at arbitrary prices. Prices are set by the state-controlled Ethio Telecom and kept artificially high. As of mid-2014, monthly packages cost between ETB 200 and 3,000 (US$10 to $150) for 1 to 30 GB of 3G mobile services.

The computer remains the most practical option for going online, though in 2014, personal computers are still prohibitively expensive. The combined cost of purchasing a computer, initiating an internet connection, and paying usage charges makes internet access beyond the reach of most Ethiopians. Consequently, only 2 percent of Ethiopian households had internet access in their homes in 2013. The majority of internet users rely on cybercafes to log online, leading to a growth of
cybercafes in recent years, particularly in large cities. 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. For years, logging into an email account and opening a single message could take as long as six minutes at a standard cybercafe with broadband in the capital city.12 According to May 2014 data from Akamai’s “State of the Internet” report, Ethiopia has an average connection speed of 1.2 Mbps (compared to a global average of 3.9 Mbps). Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s broadband adoption (characterized by connection speeds greater than 4 Mbps) is less than 3 percent,14 while the country’s narrowband adoption (connection speed below 256 Kbps) is about 20 percent among those with access. Numerous users reported that internet and text messaging speeds were extremely slow during the coverage period, with services completely unavailable at times. Frequent electricity outages are also a contributing factor to poor telecom services. Despite reports of massive investments from Chinese telecom companies in recent years,17 Ethiopia’s telecommunications infrastructure is among the least developed in Africa and is almost entirely absent from rural areas, where about 85 percent of the population resides. The country 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. In an effort to expand connectivity, the government has reportedly installed several
thousand kilometers of fiber-optic cable throughout the country over the past few years. Construction of the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) was completed and launched in July 2010, but its effects on Ethiopia have yet to be seen as of mid-2014. The space for independent initiatives in the ICT sector, entrepreneurial or otherwise, is extremely
limited, with state-owned Ethio Telecom holding a firm monopoly over internet and mobile phone services in the country. Consequently, all connections to the international internet are completely centralized via Ethio Telecom, 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. During the coverage period, one Renesys report found that 40 percent of Ethiopia’s networks were down for a few hours on July 18, 2013 as a result of a disruption on the SEACOM network, though the exact reason for the disruption was unknown. In September 2013, a number of cybercafe owners in Ethiopia reported an increasing trend of unpredictable internet connections and speeds beginning in June that resulted in a significant decline in business, with internet connections reported as unavailable for up to 15 days in a month. Mobile phone networks—also completely centralized under Ethio Telecom—are similarly vulnerable to service disruptions and shutdowns by the government, which often occur during politically sensitive times. During the coverage period, there were frequent reports of dropped cell phone and landline calls, complete network blackouts in many parts of the country, and overlapping voices in calls. The latter phenomenon led people to suspect government engagement in a widespread eavesdropping scheme (see “Violations of User Rights” for details on surveillance). Meanwhile, cybercafes are subject to onerous requirements under the 2002 Telecommunications
(Amendment) Proclamation, which requires cybercafe owners to obtain an operating license with Ethio Telecom via a murky process that can take months. During the coverage period, Ethio Telecom 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. Despite repeated international pressure to liberalize telecommunications in Ethiopia, the government
has not eased its grip on the sector. In June 2013, the prime minister publicly affirmed that the government would maintain a monopoly over the country’s telecoms. In the meantime, China has emerged as a key investor and contractor in Ethiopia’s telecommunications industry, and in July 2013, the government signed a US$1.6 billion agreement with the Chinese telecom companies,
Zhongxing Telecommunication Corporation (ZTE) and Huawei, to upgrade its broadband network to 4G in Addis Ababa and expand 3G across the country. The networks built by the Chinese firms have been criticized for their high costs and poor service, though the partnership has enabled Ethiopia’s authoritarian leaders to maintain their hold over the telecom sector. Furthermore, the contracts   have led to increasing fears that the Chinese may also be assisting the authorities in developing more robust internet and mobile phone censorship and surveillance capacities.
The Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) and the Ethiopian Telecommunications Agency (ETA) are the primary regulatory bodies overseeing the telecommunications sector. These two organizations were established as autonomous federal agencies, but both are highly controlled government bodies.
Limits on Content
During the coverage period, over a hundred websites remained inaccessible in Ethiopia, with a greater number of online tools and services targeted for blocking. A June 2014 report affirmed the government’s efforts to recruit and train progovernment citizens to attack politically objectionable content online.
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 Ethio Telecom-controlled international gateway. A more sophisticated strategy of blocking websites based on a keyword in the URL path, known as deep-packet inspection (DPI),  was detected in May 2012 when the Tor network—an online tool that enables users to browse anonymously—was blocked. In January 2014, an independent test conducted by a researcher based in the country found 120 unique URLs that were inaccessible in the country, 62 of which were Ethiopian news websites, 14 of which were political party websites,  of which were blogs, and 7 of which were television and online
radio websites. During the test, some websites opened at the first attempt but were inaccessible when refreshed. The test also found that select tools and services on Google’s Android operating system on smart phones were inaccessible at irregular intervals but for unclear reasons. A separate test on over 1,400 URLs between July and August 2013 by the OpenNet Initiative in partnership withHuman Rights Watch similarly found 62 websites blocked altogether and numerous others intermittently inaccessible. International news outlets were increasingly targeted for censorship. Al Arabiya, a Saudi Arabia-based media outlet, and both of Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English websites were intermittently blocked during the coverage period. In July 2013, websites belonging to Yahoo and CNN were reportedly inaccessible for about 12 hours. Facebook and Twitter were also targets of the short-term July 2013 blocking. There was no evident impetus or reason for the short-term blocking, and other major services such as Gmail and new outlets such as the New York Times remained accessible. Nevertheless, the incident further increased worries over reports of government plans to block popular social media tools completely. Facebook and Twitter platforms were otherwise generally accessible, although some individual Facebook groups belonging to opposition individuals remained blocked altogether, particularly when accessed via the unencrypted (http://) URL pathway. Meanwhile, the social media curation tool Storify—first blocked in July 201241—remained blocked during the coverage period, while the URL shortening tool Bit.ly was inexplicably blocked in late 2013.
In the past few years, the authorities have become more sophisticated in their censorship techniques, electing to block select webpages as opposed to entire websites. Critical online news articles are usually targeted, such as an August 2012 Forbes article titled, “Requiem for a Reprobate Ethiopian Tyrant Should Not Be Lionized,” which was blocked for criticizing the local and global praise of the former prime minister’s debatable economic growth achievements; the article remained blocked as of June 2014.44 A July 2013 YouTube video of the anti government Muslim protests that occurred from 2012-13 was also blocked as of late 2013.
International blog-hosting platforms such as Blogspot have been frequently blocked since the disputed parliamentary elections of 2005, during which the opposition used online communication tools to organize and disseminate information that was critical of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. In 2007, the government instituted a blanket block on the domainnames 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, as opposed to the entire blogging platform. Nazret, however, remained completely blocked as of June 2014. Circumvention strategies have also been targeted, with the term “proxy” yielding no search results on Google, according to an independent source. Meanwhile, the terms “sex” or “porn” are still searchable.
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. Some restrictions are also placed on mobile phones, such as the  requirement for a text message to obtain prior approval from Ethio Telecom if it is to be sent to more than ten recipients. A bulk text message sent without prior approval is automatically blocked. There are no procedures for determining which websites are blocked or why, which precludes 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), Ethio Telecom, and the ministry of ICT—seem to be implementing their own lists, contributing to a phenomenon of inconsistent blocking. 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. Local newspapers and web outlets receive their news and information from regime critics and opposition organizations in the diaspora. While the domestic Ethiopian blogosphere has been expanding, most blogging activity on Ethiopian issues still originates in the diaspora. Few Ethiopian journalists work for both the domestic print media and overseas online outlets due to the threat of repercussions. Increasing repression against journalists and bloggers has had a major chilling effect on expression online, particularly following the arrest of the Zone9 bloggers in April 2014 (see “Violations of User Rights”). Fear of pervasive surveillance has led to widespread self-censorship, and many bloggers publish anonymously to avoid reprisals. Notably, users on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter seem to practice a lower degree of self-censorship, which may be due to poor awareness of privacy settings, or the perception that posts on social media are anonymous or more secure. Despite extremely low levels of internet access, the authorities employ progovernment commentators and trolls to proactively manipulate the online news and information landscape. Acrimonious exchanges between commentators on apologist websites and an array of diaspora critics and opposition figures have become common in online political debates. There was a noticeable increase in the number of progovernment commentators during the coverage period, 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 who report directly to government officials had been trained on how to post progovernment comments and criticize antigovernment articles on social  media platforms. As the country prepares for the upcoming 2015 National Election, the state media has stepped up its campaign against the press in general and the use of social media in particular, claiming that foreign agents and terrorists are using social media to destabilize the country. Consequently, many civil society groups based in the country are wary of mobilizing against the government, and calls for protest come mostly from the Ethiopian diaspora rather than from local activists who fear the government’s violent crackdowns against protest movements. Nevertheless, over the past few years, Facebook has become one of the most popular mediums through which Ethiopians share and consume information. Social media services have also become significant platforms for political deliberation and social justice campaigns. For example, in September 2013, a group of young Ethiopian bloggers and activists based in Addis Ababa launched a Facebook and Twitter campaign on the occasion of Ethiopia’s New Year celebration to share their vision of a better Ethiopia, using the hashtag #EthiopianDream.52 In November 2013, Ethiopians responded to the Saudi government’s crackdown on undocumented Ethiopian immigrants in Saudi Arabia by organizing the online campaign, #SomeoneTellSaudiArabia, to protest the abusive treatment of Ethiopian immigrants. Netizen activism was particularly pronounced and widespread following the arrest of six Zone9 bloggers and three journalists for their alleged affiliation with the Zone9 collective (see “Violations of User Rights”). Ethiopian bloggers and social media users flocked online to spread the #FreeZone-9Bloggers hashtag in a campaign that quickly swept across the social media sphere and garnered

widespread support from around the world. Within five days, the #FreeZone9Bloggers hashtag had been tweeted more than 8,000 times. Unfortunately, the international campaign elicited no response from the government, and the imprisoned bloggers and journalists are still awaiting trial on charges of terrorism as of late-2014.

Violations of User Rights 
During the coverage period, the Ethiopian government’s already limited space for online expression continued to deteriorate alongside its poor treatment of journalists. A new proclamation passed in November 2013 empowered INSA with sweeping surveillance capabilities without judicial oversight. Sophisticated malware was launched against online radio journalists and dissidents in exile, while repression against bloggers and ICT users in the country increased notably. Six bloggers of the critical Zone9 blogging collective were arrested for their alleged terrorist activities. The 1995 Ethiopian constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and access to information, while also prohibiting censorship. These constitutional guarantees are affirmed in the 2008 Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation, known as the press law, which also provides certain protections for media workers, such as prohibiting the pre-trial detention of journalists. Nevertheless, the press law also includes problematic provisions that contradict  constitutional protections and restrict free expression. For example, media outlets are required to obtain licenses to operate through an onerous registration process that applies to all outlets, regardless of size, though it is uncertain whether the press law’s broad language encompasses online media. Penalties for violating the registration requirement and other restrictions on content, such as defamation, involve high fines and up to two and three years in prison, respectively.
In September 2012, the government codified specific restrictions on various telecommunications activities through the passage of the Telecom Fraud Offences law,  which revised a 1996 law that had placed bans on certain communication applications, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)60— including Skype and Google Voice—call back services, and internet-based fax services. Under the new law, the penalties under the preexisting ban were toughened, increasing the fine and maximum prison sentence from five to eight years for offending service providers, and penalizing users with
three months to two years in prison. The law also added the requirement for all individuals to register their telecommunications equipment—including smart phones—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 Telecom Fraud Offences law extended the violations and penalties defined in the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and 2004 Criminal Code to electronic communications, which are broadly defined yet explicitly include both mobile phone and internet services. 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, vaguely defined.64 Meanwhile, the criminal code holds any “author, originator or publisher” criminally liable for content allegedly linked to offenses such as treason, espionage, or incitement, which carries with it the penalty of up to life imprisonment or death. The criminal code also penalizes the publication of a “false rumor” with up to three years in prison. In 2014, the Ethiopian authorities increased their crackdown against bloggers and online journalists, using the country’s harsh laws to prosecute individuals for their online activities and silence dissent. Most alarmingly, six bloggers from the critical Zone9 blogging collective and three journalists associated with Zone9 were arrested in late April 2014 on charges of terrorism. They were accused of “working with foreign organizations that claim to be human rights activists… and receiving finance to
incite public violence through social media,”  though the arrests had occurred just days following Zone9’s Facebook post announcing plans to resume its activism. The blogging collective had been inactive for seven months as a result of “a considerable amount of surveillance and harassment” the bloggers had suffered at the hands of security agents for their writings and social media activism. Despite widespread international condemnation of the Zone9 arrests, the detainees were denied bail in August and remained in jail as of fall 2014, awaiting trial. 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. Numerous other journalists and media outlets—both online and print—were targeted for arrest and prosecutions during the coverage period, including Darsema Sori and Khalid Mohammed who were arrested in August 2013 for their work with the online radio station, Radio Bilal, which is known for its extensive coverage of the 2012-13 anti government protests organized by Ethiopian Muslims.

They were released after being held for a week without charges,71 but the arrests were in keeping with the government’s concerted efforts to silence the protests. Given the high degree of online repression in Ethiopia, some 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 was blocked in May 2012, confirming that the government has deployed deep-packet inspection technology, and Google searches of the term “proxy” mysteriously yield no results. Anonymity is further compromised by strict SIM card registration requirements. Upon purchase of a SIM card through Ethio Telecom or an authorized reseller, individuals must provide their full name, address, government-issued identification number, and a passport-sized photograph. Ethio Telecom’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-2014. 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.73 Known for its use by repressive regimes in Libya and Iran, ZXMT enables deep-packet inspection (DPI) of internet traffic across the Ethio Telecom network and has the ability to intercept emails and web chats. Another ZTE technology, known as ZSmart, is a customer management database installed at Ethio Telecom that provides the government with full access to user information and the ability to intercept SMS text messages and record phone conversations. ZSmart also allows security officials to locate targeted individuals through real-time geolocation tracking of mobile phones. 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. In November 2013, a new Cyber Security Law expanded the surveillance powers of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA)—the government body established in 2011 to preside overcurity of the country’s critical communications infrastructure. According to reports, the law states that “social media outlets, blogs and other internet related media have great capabilities to instigate war, to damage the country’s image and create havoc in the economic atmosphere of the country”—
setting the logic for expanding INSA’s duties to include developing offensive cyber capabilities and ICT tools. The proclamation also empowers INSA to investigate computers, networks, internet, radio, television, and social media platforms “for any possible damage to the country’s social, economic, political and psychological well being.” INSA reportedly uses sophisticated spyware, such as 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 threats. A leaked document confirmed that the UK-based company, Gamma International, had provided Ethio Telecom with the FinFisher surveillance toolkit at some point between April and July 2012.80 In addition, research conducted by Citizen Lab in March 2013 worryingly found evidence of an Ethio Telecom-initiated  inSpy campaign launched against users that employed pictures of the exiled prodemocracy group, Ginbot 7, as bait. There has been an increasing trend of exiled dissidents targeted with surveillance malware in the past few years. In April 2013, Tadesse Kersmo, a senior member of Ginbot-7 living in exile in the United Kingdom since 2009, came across the above-mentioned Citizen Lab FinSpy report and noticed that one of the spyware campaign’s bait was a picture of himself. He contacted Citizen Lab to have his computer examined and found that FinSpy had been active on his computer over two days in June 2012. The spyware may have transmitted any or all of Kersmo’s emails, chats, Skype calls, files, and web searches to a server based in Ethiopia, which could have provided the authorities with names of contacts, colleagues, and family members still living in the country. In February 2014, Privacy International filed a criminal complaint to the UK’s National Cyber Crime Unit on Kersmo’s behalf, urging them to investigate the potential unlawful interception of communications.
In the same month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a similar suit in the United States on behalf of another Ethiopian dissident (and American citizen) identified publicly under the pseudonym Mr. Kidane. Kidane’s computer had also been found infected with the FinSpy malware sometime between late October 2012 and March 2013, which had secretly recorded dozens of his Skype calls, copied emails he had sent, and logged a web search conducted by his son on the history of sports medicine for a school research project.86 The FinSpy IP address was linked to a server belonging to
Ethio Telecom. Recent Citizen Lab research published in February 2014 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, VA.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, and intercept Skype calls/chats. 88 While Hacking Team claims that they do not deal with “repressive regimes,” the RCS virus sent via sophisticated bait to the two ESAT employees made it clear that the attack was targeted, and researchers have strong suspicions of the Ethiopian government’s  involvement.
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-2010.91 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 monitor user activity themselves.
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. Bloggers from Zone9, for example, reported suffering a considerable amount of harassment for their work, leading them to go silent for several months. Shortly after the blog announced on Facebook that it was resuming activities in April 2014, six Zone9 bloggers were arrested and sent to a federal detention center in Addis Ababa where the torture of detainees is reportedly common. The active Gmail accounts belonging to several of the Zone9 bloggers94 while in detention suggests that they may have been forced give their passwords to security officials against their will.

Read more @ https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/FOTN_2014_Full_Report_compressedv2_0.pdf

ETHIOPIA: ‘BECAUSE I AM OROMO’: SWEEPING REPRESSION IN THE OROMIA REGION OF ETHIOPIA

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR25/006/2014/en

The Ethio Com, TPLF run parastatal, rated by ITU as the Least Service Provider and stands 162nd out of 166 surveyed countries, based on mobile phone and internet use December 18, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, African Internet Censorship, Amnesty International's Report: Because I Am Oromo, Ethiopia & World Press Index 2014, Facebook and Africa, Tweets and Africa.
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the International Tale communication Union (ITU)  rates Ethio Telecom as the Least Service Provider. The report in Information and Communication Technology Development Index (IDI) on October 24, 2014 shows that Ethiopia stands 162nd out of 166 surveyed countries, based on mobile phone and internet use. Among the major criteria that the ITU uses to rank countries are ICT intensity and usage level, and ICT capability or skills. see  http://www.itu.int/en/newsroom/Pages/wtis14-mis-images.aspx

Denmark ranked Number One in ITU’s ICT Development Index (IDI)*, a composite measurement that ranks 166 countries according to their level of ICT access, use and skills. It is followed by the Republic of Korea. The IDI top 30-ranking include countries from Europe and high-income nations from other regions including Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Japan, Macao (China), New Zealand, Singapore and the United States. In terms of regional comparisons, Europe’s average IDI value of 7.14 remains well ahead of the next best-performing region, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS – 5.33), followed by the Americas (4.86), Asia & the Pacific (4.57), the Arab States (4.55), and Africa at 2.31. The CIS and the Arab States showed the highest improvement in regional IDI averages over the past 12 months.

Ethiopia in ITU

 

 

Rather than providing  market based quality services to the public, the Ethiopian government is using control of its telecom system as a tool to silence dissenting voices.The TPLF run  governmen tis using Chinese and European technology to survey phone calls and Internet activity in Ethiopia and among the diaspora living overseas . http://www.thenational.ae/world/africa/ethiopia-is-spying-on-its-citizens-with-foreign-tech

 

Ethiopia Scores the Worst (80) in Net Freedom in Africa & One of the 5 Worst Countries in the World: Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2014 Report and Key Findings. #Oromia December 4, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in Amnesty International's Report: Because I Am Oromo, Dictatorship, Free development vs authoritarian model, Internet Freedom, Knowledge and the Colonizing Structure. Africa Heritage. The Genocide Against Oromo Nation, The Tyranny of Ethiopia, Tweets and Africa.
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According to Freedom House: “The internet is a crucial medium through which people can express themselves and share ideas and has become an increasingly important tool through which democracy and human rights activists mobilize and advocate for political, social, and economic reform. Fearing the power of the new technologies, authoritarian states have devised subtle and not-so-subtle ways to filter, monitor, and otherwise obstruct or manipulate the openness of the internet.”

Ethiopia (80 marks)  is the worst performer in Africa and one of  the 5 worst performers in the world  (Iran,  Syria, China, Cuba and Ethiopia).

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net-2014/freedom-net-2014-graphics#.VIDhUNKsX5M

The following are Freedom House 2014 Report and Key findings on Ethiopia:-

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/freedom-net-2014#.VIDatNKsX5O

https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2014/ethiopia

Ethiopia: Key Findings:

POPULATION: 89.2 MILLION
INTERNET PENETRATION: 2 PERCENT
SOCIAL MEDIA/ICT APPS BLOCKED: YES
POLITICAL/SOCIAL CONTENT BLOCKED: YES
BLOGGERS/ICT USERS ARRESTED: YES
PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: NOT FREE
2014 FREEDOM ON THE NET TOTAL (0 = BEST, 100 = WORST) 80

2014 SCORES

FREEDOM ON THE NET STATUS

Not Free

FREEDOM ON THE NET TOTAL

(0 = BEST, 100 = WORST)
80

OBSTACLES TO ACCESS

(0 = BEST, 25 = WORST)
23

LIMITS ON CONTENT

(0 = BEST, 35 = WORST)
28

VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS

(0 = BEST, 40 = WORST)
29
  • 2013 FREEDOM ON THE NET TOTAL (0 = BEST, 100 = WORST) 79
KEY DEVELOPMENTS:

May 2013 – May 2014

  • Telecom services worsened, characterized by frequently dropped phone calls, prolonged internet service interruptions, and slow response times to service failures (see Obstacles to Access).
  • Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, and CNN were inaccessible for 12 hours in July 2013, while the number of permanently blocked webpages also increased (see Limits on Content).
  • A law enacted in November 2013 gives the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) carte blanche to inspect private online activities without oversight (see Violations of User Rights).
  • The government launched sophisticated surveillance malware against several online journalists in the Ethiopian diaspora and dissidents in exile (see Violations of User Rights).
  • Six bloggers of the prominent Zone9 blogging collective were arrested in April 2014 on charges of terrorism (see Violations of User Rights).

Introduction

Ethiopia continues to have one of the lowest rates of internet and mobile phone connectivity in the world, as meager infrastructure, government monopoly over the telecommunications sector, and obstructive telecom policies have significantly hindered the growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the country. Coupled with highly repressive laws and tactics aimed at restricting freedom of expression and access to information, internet freedom in Ethiopia is consistently rated the worst in sub-Saharan Africa and among the worst in the world.

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 mostly in the diaspora. Surveillance of mobile phone and internet networks is systematic and widespread, enabled by Chinese-made technology that allows for the interception of SMS text messages, recording of phone calls, and centralized monitoring of online activities. The government also employs commentators and trolls to proactively manipulate the online news and information landscape.

During the report’s coverage period, internet freedom in Ethiopia worsened due to increasing restrictions on access to social media and communications tools, such as Storify, and the temporary blocking of Facebook and Twitter in July 2013. A new law passed in November 2013 gave the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) carte blanche to track private online communications and investigate electronic devices without oversight. In addition, a number of diaspora journalists and exiled dissidents were targeted with surveillance malware, demonstrating a growing level of sophistication in the government’s effort to silence critical voices that extends beyond the country’s borders.

In 2014, the Ethiopian authorities increased their crackdown against bloggers and online journalists, using the country’s harsh laws to prosecute individuals for their online activities and quash dissent. Most alarmingly, six bloggers from the critical Zone9 blogging collective and three journalists associated with Zone9 were arrested in late April 2014 on charges of terrorism, which, under the Telecom Fraud Offenses Law and anti-terrorism proclamation, can entail a sentence of up to 20 years in prison if the bloggers are found guilty. The Zone9 case was repeatedly stalled by the courts throughout 2014, leaving the bloggers in pre-trial detention for over six months as of late-2014.  Meanwhile, two online radio journalists were arrested and detained for a week without charges in August 2013, and the prominent dissident blogger, Eskinder Nega, and award-winning journalist, Reeyot Alemu, continue to serve lengthy prison sentences, despite international pressure for their release. The overall crackdown has had a major chilling effect on internet freedom and freedom of expression in the country, leading to increasing levels of self-censorship among online journalists, bloggers, and ordinary users alike.

OBSTACLES TO ACCESS: 

In 2013 and 2014, 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 1.9 percent in 2013, up from 1.5 percent in 2012.[3] Only 0.25 percent of the population had access to fixed-broadband internet, increasing from 0.01 percent in 2012.[4] Ethiopians had more access to mobile phone services, with mobile phone penetration rates increasing from 22 percent in 2012 to 27 percent in 2013,[5] though such access rates still lag behind a regional average of 80 percent.[6] Meanwhile, less than 5 percent of the population has a mobile-broadband subscription.[7] Radio remains the principal mass medium through which most Ethiopians stay informed.

While access to the internet via mobile phones increased slightly in the last year, prohibitively expensive mobile data packages still posed a significant financial obstacle for the majority of the population in Ethiopia, where per capita income in 2013 stood at US$470.[8] Ethiopia’s telecom market is very unsaturated due to monopolistic control, providing customers with few options at arbitrary prices.[9] Prices are set by the state-controlled Ethio Telecom and kept artificially high. As of mid-2014, monthly packages cost between ETB 200 and 3,000 (US$10 to $150) for 1 to 30 GB of 3G mobile services.[10]

The computer remains the most practical option for going online, though in 2014, personal computers are still prohibitively expensive. The combined cost of purchasing a computer, initiating an internet connection, and paying usage charges makes internet access beyond the reach of most Ethiopians. Consequently, only 2 percent of Ethiopian households had internet access in their homes in 2013.[11] The majority of internet users rely on cybercafes to log online, leading to a growth of cybercafes in recent years, particularly in large cities. 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. For years, logging into an email account and opening a single message could take as long as six minutes at a standard cybercafe with broadband in the capital city.[12]According to May 2014 data from Akamai’s “State of the Internet” report, Ethiopia has an average connection speed of 1.2 Mbps (compared to a global average of 3.9 Mbps).[13] Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s broadband adoption (characterized by connection speeds greater than 4 Mbps) is less than 3 percent,[14] while the country’s narrowband adoption (connection speed below 256 Kbps) is about 20 percent among those with access.[15] Numerous users reported that internet and text messaging speeds were extremely slow during the coverage period, with services completely unavailable at times.[16] Frequent electricity outages are also a contributing factor to poor telecom services.

Despite reports of massive investments from Chinese telecom companies in recent years,[17] Ethiopia’s telecommunications infrastructure is among the least developed in Africa and is almost entirely absent from rural areas, where about 85 percent of the population resides. The country 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. In an effort to expand connectivity, the government has reportedly installed several thousand kilometers of fiber-optic cable throughout the country over the past few years.[18] Construction of the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) was completed and launched in July 2010, but its effects on Ethiopia have yet to be seen as of mid-2014.[19]

The space for independent initiatives in the ICT sector, entrepreneurial or otherwise, is extremely limited,[20] with state-owned Ethio Telecom holding a firm monopoly over internet and mobile phone services in the country. Consequently, all connections to the international internet are completely centralized via Ethio Telecom, 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.[21] During the coverage period, one Renesys report found that 40 percent of Ethiopia’s networks were down for a few hours on July 18, 2013 as a result of a disruption on the SEACOM network, though the exact reason for the disruption was unknown.[22]In September 2013, a number of cybercafe owners in Ethiopia reported an increasing trend of unpredictable internet connections and speeds beginning in June that resulted in a significant decline in business, with internet connections reported as unavailable for up to 15 days in a month.[23]

Mobile phone networks—also completely centralized under Ethio Telecom—are similarly vulnerable to service disruptions and shutdowns by the government, which often occur during politically sensitive times. During the coverage period, there were frequent reports of dropped cell phone and landline calls, complete network blackouts in many parts of the country,[24] and overlapping voices in calls. The latter phenomenon led people to suspect government engagement in a widespread eavesdropping scheme (see “Violations of User Rights” for details on surveillance).

Meanwhile, cybercafes are subject to onerous requirements under the 2002 Telecommunications (Amendment) Proclamation,[25] which requires cybercafe owners to obtain an operating license with Ethio Telecom via a murky process that can take months. During the coverage period, Ethio Telecom 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.[26]

Despite repeated international pressure to liberalize telecommunications in Ethiopia, the government has not eased its grip on the sector.[27] In June 2013, the prime minister publicly affirmed that the government would maintain a monopoly over the country’s telecoms.[28] In the meantime, China has emerged as a key investor and contractor in Ethiopia’s telecommunications industry,[29] and in July 2013, the government signed a US$1.6 billion agreement with the Chinese telecom companies, Zhongxing Telecommunication Corporation (ZTE) and Huawei, to upgrade its broadband network to 4G in Addis Ababa and expand 3G across the country.[30] The networks built by the Chinese firms have been criticized for their high costs and poor service,[31] though the partnership has enabled Ethiopia’s authoritarian leaders to maintain their hold over the telecom sector.[32] Furthermore, the contracts have led to increasing fears that the Chinese may also be assisting the authorities in developing more robust internet and mobile phone censorship and surveillance capacities.[33]

The Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) and the Ethiopian Telecommunications Agency (ETA) are the primary regulatory bodies overseeing the telecommunications sector. These two organizations were established as autonomous federal agencies, but both are highly controlled government bodies.

LIMITS ON CONTENT: 

During the coverage period, over a hundred websites remained inaccessible in Ethiopia, with a greater number of online tools and services targeted for blocking. A June 2014 report affirmed the government’s efforts to recruit and train progovernment citizens to attack politically objectionable content online.

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 Ethio Telecom-controlled international gateway. A more sophisticated strategy of blocking websites based on a keyword in the URL path, known as deep-packet inspection (DPI),[34] was detected in May 2012 when the Tor network—an online tool that enables users to browse anonymously—was blocked.[35]

In January 2014, an independent test conducted by a researcher based in the country found 120 unique URLs that were inaccessible in the country, 62 of which were Ethiopian news websites, 14 of which were political party websites, 37 of which were blogs, and 7 of which were television and online radio websites.[36] During the test, some websites opened at the first attempt but were inaccessible when refreshed. The test also found that select tools and services on Google’s Android operating system on smart phones were inaccessible at irregular intervals but for unclear reasons. A separate test on over 1,400 URLs between July and August 2013 by the OpenNet Initiative in partnership with Human Rights Watch similarly found 62 websites blocked altogether and numerous others intermittently inaccessible.[37]

International news outlets were increasingly targeted for censorship. Al Arabiya, a Saudi Arabia-based media outlet, and both of Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English websites were intermittently blocked during the coverage period.[38] In July 2013, websites belonging to Yahoo and CNN were reportedly inaccessible for about 12 hours. Facebook and Twitter were also targets of the short-term July 2013 blocking.[39]There was no evident impetus or reason for the short-term blocking, and other major services such as Gmail and new outlets such as the New York Times remained accessible. Nevertheless, the incident further increased worries over reports of government plans to block popular social media tools completely.[40] Facebook and Twitter platforms were otherwise generally accessible, although some individual Facebook groups belonging to opposition individuals remained blocked altogether, particularly when accessed via the unencrypted (http://) URL pathway. Meanwhile, the social media curation tool Storify—first blocked in July 2012[41]—remained blocked during the coverage period,[42] while the URL shortening tool Bit.ly was inexplicably blocked in late 2013.[43]

In the past few years, the authorities have become more sophisticated in their censorship techniques, electing to block select webpages as opposed to entire websites. Critical online news articles are usually targeted, such as an August 2012 Forbes article titled, Requiem for a Reprobate Ethiopian Tyrant Should Not Be Lionized,” which was blocked for criticizing the local and global praise of the former prime minister’s debatable economic growth achievements; the article remained blocked as of June 2014.[44] A July 2013 YouTube video of the antigovernment Muslim protests that occurred from 2012-13 was also blocked as of late 2013.[45]

International blog-hosting platforms such as Blogspot have been frequently blocked since the disputed parliamentary elections of 2005, during which the opposition used online communication tools to organize and disseminate information that was critical of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front.[46] 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,[47] as opposed to the entire blogging platform. Nazret, however, remained completely blocked as of June 2014. Circumvention strategies have also been targeted, with the term “proxy” yielding no search results on Google,[48] according to an independent source. Meanwhile, the terms “sex” or “porn” are still searchable.

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. Some restrictions are also placed on mobile phones, such as the requirement for a text message to obtain prior approval from Ethio Telecom if it is to be sent to more than ten recipients.[49] A bulk text message sent without prior approval is automatically blocked.

There are no procedures for determining which websites are blocked or why, which precludes 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), Ethio Telecom, and the ministry of ICT—seem to be implementing their own lists, contributing to a phenomenon of inconsistent blocking.

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. Local newspapers and web outlets receive their news and information from regime critics and opposition organizations in the diaspora. While the domestic Ethiopian blogosphere has been expanding, most blogging activity on Ethiopian issues still originates in the diaspora. Few Ethiopian journalists work for both the domestic print media and overseas online outlets due to the threat of repercussions.

Increasing repression against journalists and bloggers has had a major chilling effect on expression online, particularly following the arrest of the Zone9 bloggers in April 2014 (see “Violations of User Rights”). Fear of pervasive surveillance has led to widespread self-censorship, and many bloggers publish anonymously to avoid reprisals.[50] Notably, users on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter seem to practice a lower degree of self-censorship, which may be due to poor awareness of privacy settings, or the perception that posts on social media are anonymous or more secure.

Despite extremely low levels of internet access, the authorities employ progovernment commentators and trolls to proactively manipulate the online news and information landscape. Acrimonious exchanges between commentators on apologist websites and an array of diaspora critics and opposition figures have become common in online political debates. There was a noticeable increase in the number of progovernment commentators during the coverage period, 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 who report directly to government officials had been trained on how to post progovernment comments and criticize antigovernment articles on social media platforms.[51]

As the country prepares for the upcoming 2015 National Election, the state media has stepped up its campaign against the press in general and the use of social media in particular, claiming that foreign agents and terrorists are using social media to destabilize the country. Consequently, many civil society groups based in the country are wary of mobilizing against the government, and calls for protest come mostly from the Ethiopian diaspora rather than from local activists who fear the government’s violent crackdowns against protest movements.

Nevertheless, over the past few years, Facebook has become one of the most popular mediums through which Ethiopians share and consume information. Social media services have also become significant platforms for political deliberation and social justice campaigns. For example, in September 2013, a group of young Ethiopian bloggers and activists based in Addis Ababa launched a Facebook and Twitter campaign on the occasion of Ethiopia’s New Year celebration to share their vision of a better Ethiopia, using the hashtag #EthiopianDream.[52] In November 2013, Ethiopians responded to the Saudi government’s crackdown on undocumented Ethiopian immigrants in Saudi Arabia by organizing the online campaign, #SomeoneTellSaudiArabia, to protest the abusive treatment of Ethiopian immigrants.[53]

Netizen activism was particularly pronounced and widespread following the arrest of six Zone9 bloggers and three journalists for their alleged affiliation with the Zone9 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. Within five days, the #FreeZone9Bloggers hashtag had been tweeted more than 8,000 times.[54] Unfortunately, the international campaign elicited no response from the government, and the imprisoned bloggers and journalists are still awaiting trial on charges of terrorism as of late-2014.

VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS: 

During the coverage period, the Ethiopian government’s already limited space for online expression continued to deteriorate alongside its poor treatment of journalists. A new proclamation passed in November 2013 empowered INSA with sweeping surveillance capabilities without judicial oversight. Sophisticated malware was launched against online radio journalists and dissidents in exile, while repression against bloggers and ICT users in the country increased notably. Six bloggers of the critical Zone9 blogging collective were arrested for their alleged terrorist activities.

The 1995 Ethiopian constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and access to information, while also prohibiting censorship.[55] These constitutional guarantees are affirmed in the 2008 Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation, known as the press law, which also provides certain protections for media workers, such as prohibiting the pre-trial detention of journalists.[56]Nevertheless, the press law also includes problematic provisions that contradict constitutional protections and restrict free expression. For example, media outlets are required to obtain licenses to operate through an onerous registration process that applies to all outlets, regardless of size, though it is uncertain whether the press law’s broad language encompasses online media.[57] Penalties for violating the registration requirement and other restrictions on content, such as defamation, involve high fines and up to two and three years in prison, respectively.[58]

In September 2012, the government codified specific restrictions on various telecommunications activities through the passage of the Telecom Fraud Offences law,[59] which revised a 1996 law that had placed bans on certain communication applications, such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)[60]—including Skype and Google Voice—call back services, and internet-based fax services.[61] Under the new law, the penalties under the preexisting ban were toughened, increasing the fine and maximum prison sentence from five to eight years for offending service providers, and penalizing users with three months to two years in prison.[62] The law also added the requirement for all individuals to register their telecommunications equipment—including smart phones—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 Telecom Fraud Offences law extended the violations and penalties defined in the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and 2004 Criminal Code to electronic communications, which are broadly defined yet explicitly include both mobile phone and internet services.[63] 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, vaguely defined.[64] Meanwhile, the criminal code holds any “author, originator or publisher” criminally liable for content allegedly linked to offenses such as treason, espionage, or incitement, which carries with it the penalty of up to life imprisonment or death.[65] The criminal code also penalizes the publication of a “false rumor” with up to three years in prison.[66]

In 2014, the Ethiopian authorities increased their crackdown against bloggers and online journalists, using the country’s harsh laws to prosecute individuals for their online activities and silence dissent. Most alarmingly, six bloggers from the critical Zone9 blogging collective and three journalists associated with Zone9 were arrested in late April 2014 on charges of terrorism. They were accused of “working with foreign organizations that claim to be human rights activists… and receiving finance to incite public violence through social media,”[67]though the arrests had occurred just days following Zone9’s Facebook post announcing plans to resume its activism. The blogging collective had been inactive for seven months as a result of “a considerable amount of surveillance and harassment” the bloggers had suffered at the hands of security agents for their writings and social media activism.[68] Despite widespread international condemnation of the Zone9 arrests, the detainees were denied bail in August and remained in jail as of fall 2014, awaiting trial.[69] 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.[70]

Numerous other journalists and media outlets—both online and print—were targeted for arrest and prosecutions during the coverage period, including Darsema Sori and Khalid Mohammed who were arrested in August 2013 for their work with the online radio station, Radio Bilal, which is known for its extensive coverage of the 2012-13 antigovernment protests organized by Ethiopian Muslims. They were released after being held for a week without charges,[71] but the arrests were in keeping with the government’s concerted efforts to silence the protests.

Given the high degree of online repression in Ethiopia, some 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 was blocked in May 2012, confirming that the government has deployed deep-packet inspection technology, and Google searches of the term “proxy” mysteriously yield no results.

Anonymity is further compromised by strict SIM card registration requirements. Upon purchase of a SIM card through Ethio Telecom or an authorized reseller, individuals must provide their full name, address, government-issued identification number, and a passport-sized photograph. Ethio Telecom’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-2014.[72]

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.[73] Known for its use by repressive regimes in Libya and Iran, ZXMT enables deep-packet inspection (DPI) of internet traffic across the Ethio Telecom network and has the ability to intercept emails and web chats.

Another ZTE technology, known as ZSmart, is a customer management database installed at Ethio Telecom that provides the government with full access to user information and the ability to intercept SMS text messages and record phone conversations.[74] ZSmart also allows security officials to locate targeted individuals through real-time geolocation tracking of mobile phones.[75] 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.[76]

In November 2013, a new Cyber Security Law expanded the surveillance powers of the Information Network Security Agency (INSA)—the government body established in 2011 to preside over the security of the country’s critical communications infrastructure.[77] According to reports, the law states that “social media outlets, blogs and other internet related media have great capabilities to instigate war, to damage the country’s image and create havoc in the economic atmosphere of the country”—setting the logic for expanding INSA’s duties to include developing offensive cyber capabilities and ICT tools. The proclamation also empowers INSA to investigate computers, networks, internet, radio, television, and social media platforms “for any possible damage to the country’s social, economic, political and psychological well being.”[78]

INSA reportedly uses sophisticated spyware, such as 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 threats.[79] A leaked document confirmed that the UK-based company, Gamma International, had provided Ethio Telecom with the FinFisher surveillance toolkit at some point between April and July 2012.[80] In addition, research conducted by Citizen Lab in March 2013 worryingly found evidence of an Ethio Telecom-initiated FinSpy campaign launched against users that employed pictures of the exiled prodemocracy group, Ginbot 7, as bait.[81]

There has been an increasing trend of exiled dissidents targeted with surveillance malware in the past few years. In April 2013, Tadesse Kersmo, a senior member of Ginbot-7 living in exile in the United Kingdom since 2009, came across the above-mentioned Citizen Lab FinSpy report and noticed that one of the spyware campaign’s bait was a picture of himself.[82] He contacted Citizen Lab to have his computer examined and found that FinSpy had been active on his computer over two days in June 2012.[83] The spyware may have transmitted any or all of Kersmo’s emails, chats, Skype calls, files, and web searches to a server based in Ethiopia, which could have provided the authorities with names of contacts, colleagues, and family members still living in the country.[84]  In February 2014, Privacy International filed a criminal complaint to the UK’s National Cyber Crime Unit on Kersmo’s behalf, urging them to investigate the potential unlawful interception of communications.

In the same month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a similar suit in the United States on behalf of another Ethiopian dissident (and American citizen) identified publicly under the pseudonym Mr. Kidane.[85] Kidane’s computer had also been found infected with the FinSpy malware sometime between late October 2012 and March 2013, which had secretly recorded dozens of his Skype calls, copied emails he had sent, and logged a web search conducted by his son on the history of sports medicine for a school research project.[86] The FinSpy IP address was linked to a server belonging to Ethio Telecom.

Recent Citizen Lab research published in February 2014 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, VA.[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, and intercept Skype calls/chats. [88] While Hacking Team claims that they do not deal with “repressive regimes,”[89] the RCS virus sent via sophisticated bait to the two ESAT employees made it clear that the attack was targeted, and researchers have strong suspicions of the Ethiopian government’s involvement.[90]

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.[91] 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 monitor user activity themselves.[92]

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. Bloggers from Zone9, for example, reported suffering a considerable amount of harassment for their work, leading them to go silent for several months. Shortly after the blog announced on Facebook that it was resuming activities in April 2014, six Zone9 bloggers were arrested and sent to a federal detention center in Addis Ababa where the torture of detainees is reportedly common.[93] The active Gmail accounts belonging to several of the Zone9 bloggers[94] while in detention suggests that they may have been forced give their passwords to security officials against their will.

NOTES: 

[1] Rebecca Wanjiku, “Study: Ethiopia only sub-Saharan Africa nation to filter net,” Computerworld, October 8, 2009, http://news.idg.no/cw/art.cfm?id=353092F0-1A64-67EA-E4FBE79C305B60AB.

[2] Tom Jackson, “Telecoms slow down development of Ethiopian tech scene – iceaddis,” humanipo, October 22, 2013, http://www.humanipo.com/news/34843/telecoms-slow-down-development-of-ethiopian-tech-scene-iceaddis/.

[3] International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet, 2000-2013,” http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx.

[4] International Telecommunication Union, “Fixed (Wired)-Broadband Subscriptions, 2000-2013.”

[5] International Telecommunication Union, “Mobile-Cellular Telephone Subscriptions, 2000-2013.”

[6] John Koetsier, “African mobile penetration hits 80% (and is growing faster than anywhere else),” Venture Beat, December 3, 2013, http://venturebeat.com/2013/12/03/african-mobile-penetration-hits-80-and-is-growing-faster-than-anywhere-else/.

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

[8] World Bank, “Ethiopia Overview,” last updated July 21, 2014, http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/ethiopia/overview.

[9] “Ethiopia – Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts,” Paul Budde Communication Pty Ltd. June 2014,http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/1222503/ethiopia_telecoms_mobile_broadband_and.

[10] Ethio Telecom’s Facebook page, post on September 7, 2014, accessed October 1, 2014, https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1501293840115809&id=1435268306718363.

[11] International Telecommunication Union, “Ethiopia Profile (Latest data available: 2013),” ICT-Eye, accessed August 1, 2014, http://www.itu.int/net4/itu-d/icteye/CountryProfileReport.aspx?countryID=77.

[12] Kebena, “Internet Access in the Capital of Africa, Addis Ababa,” video, EthioTube.net, posted June 19, 2010, last accessed August 1, 2014, http://www.ethiotube.net/video/9655/Internet-Access-in-the-Capital-of-Africa-Addis-Ababa.

[13] Akamai, “Average Connection Speed: Ethiopia,” map visualization, The State of the Internet Q1 (2014), http://www.akamai.com/stateoftheinternet/soti-visualizations.html#stoi-map.

[14] Akamai, “Broadband Adoption (connections to Akamai >4 Mbps): Ethiopia,” map visualization, The State of the Internet, Q1 2014, http://www.akamai.com/stateoftheinternet/soti-visualizations.html#stoi-map.

[15] Akamai, “Narrowband Adoption (connections to Akamai <256 kbps): Ethiopia,” map visualization, The State of the Internet, Q1 2014, http://www.akamai.com/stateoftheinternet/soti-visualizations.html#stoi-map.

[16] Bewket Abebe, “Internet Connection Grief,” Addis Fortune, September 29, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201310020838.html?viewall=1.

[17] Aaron Maasho, “Ethiopia signs $700 mln mobile network deal with China’s Huawei,” Reuters, July 25, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/25/ethiopia-mobile-huawei-idUSL6N0FV4WV20130725.

[18] Bewket Abebe, “Internet Connection Grief,” Addis Fortune, September 29, 2013.

[19] Brian Adero, “WIOCC-EASSy Cable Ready for Business,” IT News Africa, July 23, 2010, http://www.itnewsafrica.com/?p=8419.

[20] Al Shiferaw, “Connecting Telecentres: An Ethiopian Perspective,” Telecentre Magazine, September 2008, http://bit.ly/16DdF6Z.

[21] Jim Cowie, “Syria, Venezuela, Ukraine: Internet Under Fire,” Renesys (blog), February 26, 2014, http://www.renesys.com/2014/02/internetunderfire/.

[22] Renesys, Twitter post, July 18, 2013, 5:10pm, https://twitter.com/renesys/status/357955490237513729/photo/1.

[23] Bewket Abebe, “Internet Connection Grief,” Addis Fortune, September 29, 2013.

[24] Yonas Abiye, “Network Blackout Hits Addis As Parliament Slams Ethio Telecom,” The Reporter, February 8, 2014, http://allafrica.com/stories/201402102129.html.

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

[26] Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency, “License Directive for Resale and Telecenter in Telecommunication Services No. 1/2002,” November 8, 2002, accessed August 4, 2014,http://bit.ly/1pUtpWh.

[27] “US urge Ethiopia to Liberalise Telecom Sector,” Africa News via Somali State, March 10, 2010, http://www.somalistate.com/englishnewspage.php?articleid=4638; Technology Strategies International, “ICT Investment Opportunities in Ethiopia—2010,” March 1, 2010, http://bit.ly/1bmsGvq.

[28] “Ethio Telecom to remain monopoly for now,” TeleGeography, June 28, 2013, http://www.telegeography.com/products/commsupdate/articles/2013/06/28/ethio-telecom-to-retain-monopoly-for-now/.

[29] “Ethiopia’s Ethio Telecom signs deal with China’s ZTE,” BBC, August 19, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-23754626.

[31] Matthew Dalton, “Telecom Deal by China’s ZTE, Huawei in Ethiopia Faces Criticism,” The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2014,http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303653004579212092223818288.

[32] “Out of reach,” The Economist, August 24, 2013.

[33] 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: “China Involved in ESAT Jamming,” Addis Neger, June 22, 2010, http://addisnegeronline.com/2010/06/china-involved-in-esat-jamming/, Gary Sands, “Ethiopia’s Broadband Network – A Chinese Trojan Horse?” Foreign Policy Association, September 6, 2013, http://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2013/09/06/ethiopias-broadband-network-a-chinese-trojan-horse/.

[34] Daniel Berhane, “Ethiopia’s Web Filtering: Advanced Technology, Hypocritical Criticisms, Bleeding Constitution,” Daniel Berhane’s Blog, January 16, 2011,http://danielberhane.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/ethiopias-web-filtering-advanced-technology-hypocritical-criticisms-bleeding-constitution/.

[35] “Ethiopia Introduces Deep Packet Inspection,” Tor, May 31, 2012, https://blog.torproject.org/blog/ethiopia-introduces-deep-packet-inspection; Warwick Ashford, “Ethiopian Government Blocks Tor Network Online Anonymity,” Computer Weekly, June 28, 2012, http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240158237/Ethiopian-government-blocks-Tor-Network-online-anonymity.

[36] Test conducted by an anonymous researcher contracted by Freedom House.

[37] “Citizen Lab collaborates with Human Rights Watch on Internet censorship testing in Ethiopia,” Citizen Lab (blog), April 16, 2014, https://citizenlab.org/2014/04/citizen-lab-collaborates-human-rights-watch-internet-censorship-testing-ethiopia/. “Ethiopia 2013 Testing Results,” Citizen Lab (Google Drive document), accessed September 8, 2014,https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0Ah0XQ-1lDRPYdE9JYzBPNWZudEdXMXl4VVk0TC1JNXc&gid=0.

[38] “Ethiopia ‘Blocks’ Al Jazeera Websites,” Al Jazeera, March 18, 2013, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/03/201331793613725182.html.

[39] Websites blocked were all reportedly accessible via proxy servers. See: “Twitter and Facebook Access Restored After 12-Hour Blackout,” OPride, July 19, 2013,http://www.opride.com/oromsis/news/horn-of-africa/3685-twitter-and-facebook-blocked-in-ethiopia.

[40] An old Amharic saying that demonstrates the country’s deep-rooted culture of fear —“Stay away from electricity and politics”—recently evolved to: “Stay away from Social Media.” The contemporary saying implies that giving one’s political opinions via social media could cause grave bodily injury similar to exposing oneself to electricity.

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

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

[44] Research conducted by Freedom House consultant.

[45] Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” March 2014, pg 57, http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/ethiopia0314_ForUpload_0.pdf.

[46] Bogdan Popa, “Google Blocked in Ethiopia,” Softpedia, May 3, 2007, http://news.softpedia.com/news/Google-Blocked-In-Ethiopia-53799.shtml.

[47] Zone9 blog hosted at: http://zone9ethio.blogspot.com/.

[48] 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 2014, pg 56, 58.

[49] 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.

[50] Markos Lemma, “Disconnected Ethiopian Netizens,” Digital Development Debates(blog), http://www.digital-development-debates.org/issues/09-prejudice/african-innovation/disconnected-ethiopian-netizens/.

[51] “Ethiopia Trains Bloggers to attack its opposition,” ECADF Ethiopian News & Opinions, June 7, 2014, http://ecadforum.com/2014/06/07/ethiopia-trains-bloggers-to-attack-its-opposition.

[52] Selamawit, “Millions of Ethiopians share their dream for our country in the new year. What is your dream?” Sodere, September 6, 2013, http://sodere.com/profiles/blogs/millions-of-ethiopians-share-their-dream-for-their-country-in-the.

[53] Ndesanjo Macha, “Ethiopians: #SomeoneTellSaudiArabia to Stop Immigration Crackdown,” Global Voices (blog,) November 13, 2013, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/11/13/ethiopians-someonetellsaudiarabia-to-stop-immigration-crackdown/.

[54] “#BBCtrending: Jailed bloggers spark Ethiopia trend,” BBC Trending, April 30, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-27212472.

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

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

[57] Article 19, “The Legal Framework for Freedom of Expression in Ethiopia,” accessed September 10, 2014, http://www.article19.org/data/files/pdfs/publications/ethiopia-legal-framework-for-foe.pdf.

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

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

[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 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.

[61] Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency, “Telecommunication Proclamation No. 281/2002, Article 2(11) and 2(12),” July 2, 2002, accessed July 25, 2014,http://www.researchictafrica.net/countries/ethiopia/Telecommunications_(Amendment)_Proclamation_no_281:2002.pdf. 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).

[62] A Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offence.

[63] Article 19, “Ethiopia: Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offences.”

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

[65] International Labour Organization, “The Criminal Code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Proclamation No. 414/2004, Article 44,”http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/70993/75092/F1429731028/ETH70993.pdf.

[66] “The Criminal Code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.”

[67] “Six Members of Blogging Collective Arrested in Ethiopia,” Global Voices Advocacy, April 26, 2014, http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2014/04/26/six-members-of-blogging-collective-arrested-in-ethiopia/.

[68] Six members of Zone Nine, group of bloggers and activists are arrested” [in Amharic], Zone9 (blog), April 25, 2014, http://zone9ethio.blogspot.com/2014/04/9.html.

[69] “Nine Journalists and Bloggers Still Held Arbitrarily,” Reporters Without Borders, August 21, 2014, http://en.rsf.org/ethiopia-nine-journalists-and-bloggers-21-08-2014,46830.html.

[70] 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. Sarah Hoffman, “That Bravest and Most Admirable of Writers: PEN Salutes Eskinder Nega,” PEN American Center (blog), April 13, 2012, http://www.pen.org/blog/?p=11198. See also, Markos Lemma, “Ethiopia: Online Reactions to Prison Sentence for Dissident Blogger,” Global Voices, July 15, 2012, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/07/15/ethiopia-online-reactions-to-prison-sentence-for-dissident-blogger/; Endalk, “Ethiopia: Freedom of Expression in Jeopardy,” Global Voices, February 3, 2012, http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2012/02/03/ethiopia-freedom-of-expression-in-jeopardy/.

[71] “Two Ethiopian journalists held for a week without charge,” CPJ (news alert), August 9, 2013, http://cpj.org/2013/08/two-ethiopian-journalists-held-for-a-week-without.php.

[72] Interview conducted by Freedom House consultant.

[73] Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” March 2014, pg 62, http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/ethiopia0314_ForUpload_0.pdf.

[74] Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” March 2014, pg 67.

[75] Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” March 2014, pg 52.

[76]  Committee to Protect Journalists, “Ethiopian Blogger, Journalists Convicted of Terrorism,” January 19, 2012, http://cpj.org/2012/01/three-journalists-convicted-on-terrorism-charges-i.php.

[77] Yonas Abiye, “INSA to reign all-powering cyberspace,” The Reporter, November 9, 2013, http://www.thereporterethiopia.com/index.php/news-headlines/item/1217-insa-to-reign-all-powerful-over-cyberspace.

[78] “Informationa Network Security Agency (INSA) of Ethiopia is to be reestablished,” Dire Tube, November 5, 2013, http://www.diretube.com/articles/read-information-network-security-agency-insa-of-ethiopia-is-to-be-reestablished_3833.html#.UyDWIPldVz4.

[79] Fahmida Y. Rashid, “FinFisher ‘Lawful Interception’ Spyware Found in Ten Countries, Including the U.S.,” Security Week, August 8, 2012, http://www.securityweek.com/finfisher-lawful-interception-spyware-found-ten-countries-including-us.

[80] The document was seen by Freedom House consultant. Morgan Marquis-Boire et al., “You Only Click Twice: FinFisher’s Global Proliferation,” Citizen Lab (University of Toronto), March 13, 2013, https://citizenlab.org/2013/03/you-only-click-twice-finfishers-global-proliferation-2/.

[81] Marquis-Boire, “You Only Click Twice.”

[82] Liat Clark, “Ethiopian refugee ‘illegally’ spied on using British software,” Wired, February 17, 2014, http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-02/17/illegal-spying-ethiopian-refugee.

[83] “Privacy International seeking investigation into computer spying on refugee in UK,” Privacy International (press release), February 17, 2014, https://www.privacyinternational.org/press-releases/privacy-international-seeking-investigation-into-computer-spying-on-refugee-in-uk; Liat Clark, “Ethiopian refugee ‘illegally’ spied on using British software.”

[84] Joshua Kopstein, “Hackers Without Borders,” The New Yorker, March 10, 2014, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2014/03/hacked-by-ones-own-government.html.

[85] “American Sues Ethiopian Government for Spyware Infection,” Electronic Frontier Foundation (press release), February 18, 2014, https://www.eff.org/press/releases/american-sues-ethiopian-government-spyware-infection.

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

[87] Bill Marczak et al., “Hacking Team and the Targeting of Ethiopian Journalists,” Citizen Lab, February 12, 2014, https://citizenlab.org/2014/02/hacking-team-targeting-ethiopian-journalists/.

[88] “Customer Policy,” Hacking Team, 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://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57573707-38/meet-the-corporate-enemies-of-the-internet-for-2013/.

[90] Craig Timberg, “Foreign regimes use spyware against journalists, even in U.S.,” Washington Post, February 12, 2014, http://wapo.st/McG3TZ.

[92] Human Rights Watch, “They Know Everything We Do,” March 2014, pg 67.

[93] “Timeline,” Zone9ers ‘Trial’ (blog), April 26, 2014, http://trialtrackerblog.org/press/.

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