… My heart’s in Accra Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

May 22, 2006

Ethiopia “pioneers” cybercensorship in sub-Saharan Africa

Filed under: Africa,Blogs and bloggers,Global Voices,Human Rights,Media — Ethan @ 10:27 am

Researchers who study internet filtering and censorship have focused much of their attention on countries in Asia and the Middle East. A quick glance at the “case studies” page of the Open Net Initiative (operated, in part, by the Berkman Center, my employer) lists studies from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Bahrain, UAE, Iran, Yemen, Singapore, and China.

For the most part, sub-Saharan African nations haven’t focused their resources on filtering internet content. Ethiopia, however, appears to be pioneering a change for the worse. Several bloggers in Ethiopia have reported that all Blogspot blogs have been blocked within Ethiopia for the past few days. Many Ethiopian bloggers – both inside the country and in the diaspora – use Blogspot/Blogger to host their blogs – as a result, this block prevents Ethiopians from accessing several sites highly critical of the government, like Weichegud, Ethiopundit and Seminawork. I’ve corresponded with friends in Ethiopia who confirm this block – Blogger.com itself is reachable, but any site with “.blogspot.com” in its URL appears to be blocked by ETC, the national telephone operator.

Seminawork offers some additional information, which I’ve not been able to confirm:

In addition, the government has blocked Ethiopian Review, cyber ethiopia, quatero and Free our leaders websites. My sources told me this is done by tel. with the advise and help of the chinese.

The author advises Ethiopian readers to use CGI-based proxies, like Anonymizer, to access these sites. If Ethiopia is determined to prevent access to these sites, we’ll likely see common anonymizers blocked soon. For any readers in Ethiopia finding this post, I have two recommendations:

– If you are simply interested in accessing sites like Ethiopundit and aren’t especially concerned if a network operator somewhere else in the world can determine your identity and location, it’s very simple to start using anonymizing proxies through your browser. Pick a proxy from a list of public proxies, like Samair.ru, modify your browser setting so your browser uses one of the IP addresses provided on the page as your web proxy, and you should be able to access whatever content you like.

– If you’re very concerned about protecting your identity, use Tor, a slower but much more secure anonymization system. For maximum security, enable Tor and disable Java within your browser.

Our friends in Pakistan continue to struggle with a blanket block of blogspot blogs. The circumstances, however, are slightly different. The Pakistan block appears to be in response to a government ruling prohibiting citizens from accessing copies of the infamous Danish cartoons satirizing/insulting the Prophet Muhammed – while the decision to block all blogspot blogs is a clear case of “overblocking”, it’s possible to trace the block to compliance with laws on the books and a judicial decision. (This does not mean that, in any way, I support Pakistan’s decision to block Blogspot, or any websites.)

The Zenawi government, on the other hand, does not seem to have publicly acknowledged the block. This is hardly a surprise – the government is currently attempting to prosecute opposition politicians and journalists on charges that range from treason to genocide. These arrests resulted from violence after elections in May 2005. Since then, correspondents from independent news agencies have been thrown out of the country, independent newspapers have been closed down, and anti-government bloggers have reported harrasment and threats. I think it’s unlikely that we’ll get an explanation of the block from the Zenawi government that goes any farther than a vague assurance that Blogspot needed to be blocked to “prevent genocide”.

There’s an odd sense in which the blocking of websites in Ethiopia is a hopeful sign – they’re being blocked precisely because there’s independent political voices making themselves heard through this medium and because readers in Ethiopia are listening to these voices. The government’s desire to block blogs is an implicit endorsement of their political power – censorship is the sincerest form of flattery. Let’s hope that this is a brief, dark moment during a very dark year in Ethiopian politics, not a long-term trend.

13 Comments

  1. Since I cannot access the dashboard to create and post a new entry I’ll hijack this forum for a bit (sorry Global Voices).

    While we are getting increasingly worried about the freedom of the web and the muffling of the few free public fora in Ethiopia the oppression is mounting. Since the bombings on Friday the 12th of May the presence of military in various types and colours of uniform has been stepped up. Armed soldiers, who had been walking around with their rifles casually slung around their torsos are now seen with their itchy fingers on the trigger, especially in the “poorer” areas of Lideta, Abinet, Merkato etc. The “security guards” by the Customs offices in LaGare are actually stationed on the wall with their rifles pointing into the street- a busy street.
    Other news is that the highly publicised use of teachers and schools for oppression and intimidation is continuing. A teacher of foreign origin (a 2nd generation Italian according to my source) at a public school was forced to leave the country after refusing to disclose the name of “troublemakers”- students who are known for political awareness raising and agitation. He was actually lucky… His family here though are still facing uncertainty.

    Returning to the freedom of blogs- we are told that we can use Secure Tunnel and similar sites to access blocked blogs, but how can we post? And, more importantly- is it still safe to post? Will Blogspot collaborate with the government like Yahoo did with the Chinese government?
    There is a need for some detailed advice as to what is a secure way to post on the blogs and also write safe e-mails using means that a cranky, overworked and inefficient Ethiopian Telecom Server can quickly handle.

    Comment by Alex — May 23, 2006 @ 3:50 am

  2. […] I received a comment on yesterday’s post regarding the apparent blocking of Blogspot blogs in Ethiopia from Alex, who is evidently an Ethiopian blogger. He offered the following: While we are getting increasingly worried about the freedom of the web and the muffling of the few free public fora in Ethiopia the oppression is mounting. Since the bombings on Friday the 12th of May the presence of military in various types and colours of uniform has been stepped up. Armed soldiers, who had been walking around with their rifles casually slung around their torsos are now seen with their itchy fingers on the trigger, especially in the “poorer” areas of Lideta, Abinet, Merkato etc. The “security guards” by the Customs offices in LaGare are actually stationed on the wall with their rifles pointing into the street- a busy street. Other news is that the highly publicised use of teachers and schools for oppression and intimidation is continuing. A teacher of foreign origin (a 2nd generation Italian according to my source) at a public school was forced to leave the country after refusing to disclose the name of “troublemakers”- students who are known for political awareness raising and agitation. He was actually lucky… His family here though are still facing uncertainty. […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » Blogging anonymously from Ethiopia — May 23, 2006 @ 3:18 pm

  3. […] Billion dollars: a guideline – Posted by Duane in Commentary, World (Tuesday June 6, 2006 at 12:12 am) Sent to blackinformant.com by Ehtiopians in the Diaspora The situation in Ethiopia continuesto silently deteriorate. It is a pernicious kind of deterioration: the kind that slowly chips away at freedom and democracy, with the occasional mass killings by the government are tempered by fustian press releases about how “Ethiopiais forging ahead with democracy.” Anthony Mitchell, a season reporter for the AP, was kicked out last November for “tarnishing the image of the nation”, “repeatedly contravening journalism ethics”, and “disseminating information far from the truth about Ethiopia.” If that sounds like an old Soviet talking point, it’s because it is. There are now over 17 journalists imprisoned on ‘treason’ charges, but the government is quick to mention how free press is flourishing in the country. (The IPI’s assessment of the draconian press laws can be found here.) On May 18, the government started blocking opposition websites. By the following week, blogspot.com had become inaccessible in Ethiopia. A lot of Ethiopian dissidents use blogspot to transmit news from , and it is also a popular platform for Diaspora bloggers. Ethan Zuckerman contends this makes Ethiopia a “pioneer” of cyber censorship of this magnitude. Reporters Sans Frontiers and the Committee to Protect Journalists are following the story. Meanwhile, this bastion of democracy (at least according to Jimmy Carter, who deemed the May elections free and fair before a single vote was cast) has rounded up all the top leaders of the main opposition leadership, including the Mayor elect (a prominent US-educated economist), and charged them with “genocide” and “treason” It is easily the most absurd abuse of jurisprudence in recent history. Amnesty International has details here. In the latest assault on the free press, the Ethiopian government has barred the leader of the International Federation of Journalists from entering the country. So what does the Ethiopian government get for all these transgressions? A $1.05 Billion aid package from the World Bank. The aid proposal has presented [Paul] Wolfowitz with one of the thorniest dilemmas he has faced in the year since he took the World Bank’s helm. As a top Pentagon official in the Bush administration, he was a prime advocate of using U.S. power to spread democracy. The Ethiopian people can stand up to the tyranny of the Ethiopian government that has used its “partner on the war on terror” as a perfect cover to terrorize its people. (The US had to stop selling it Humvees meant for the war on terror when the ruling party started using it as a tool to squash peaceful protests.) But how can they fight the World Bank? If this was just another rouge government we suppose we could yawn and move on. But this is a key US ally in the volatile Horn of Africa. It has 77 million people, and is one of the most ancient countries in the world. We need it as a stable ally in order to curb the festering anti-Americanism in neighboring Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea. All we are asking is for people to tell the story. Ethiopundit, the most prolific Ethiopian blogger, opines in Meles Love You Long Time. Egoportal, a young blogger from Addis Ababa, has a biting satire on the Meles regime. CoffeechilliSun proclaims Ethiopian bloggers will Stay Stronger Than Ever Weichegud ET! Politics asks Condi Rice what her threshold is. Dr. Solomon Terfa tells the Carter Center that the ‘silence is deafening.’ All Ethiopians want is a chance at democracy. They can take care of themselves. “We don’t want money. We don’t want bread. All we want is for this government not to take away our hope.” These are the words of a young Ethiopian girl who was mourning her little brother’s death. (He was shot in the head while walking back home from school.) If we pay attention now, we won’t have to wring our hands later when thousands of Ethiopians die. It took the world two years to notice Darfur. Hopefully, it won’t take that long for the world to say “no” to a government poised to hold on to power by any means necessary. Ethiopia is an avoidable disaster. We thank Congressman Chris Smith (R-NY) for rallying to the Ethiopian people. HR 4423 will be part of his legacy. We hope his colleagues in the Committee on International Relations will pass the bill and give the House a chance to give Ethiopians hope. […]

    Pingback by How to block bloggers and get $1.05 Billion dollars: a guideline - BlackInformant.com — June 6, 2006 @ 4:31 am

  4. […] This isn’t just a reflection of media disinterest in Africa – it’s a result of the difficulty of understanding and explaining how Internet filtering works. Reporters without Borders asked Ethiopia if they were filtering the Internet – they didn’t get a solid response from Ethiopia Telecom. With no acknowledgement from the Ethiopian government, a journalist needs to take the reports offered by Ethiopian bloggers (or me) as gospel truth to write an article. […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » Blogspot still blocked. Newspapers still silent. — June 14, 2006 @ 8:09 am

  5. […] The power of person to person electronic media – SMS, email – and personal broadcast – blogs, podcasts, filesharing – is starting to worry governments who see a need to control information. Whether or not everyone in the western media takes blogs seriously as spaces for social commentary, the Ethiopian government is evidently sufficiently concerned to block Blogspot. And, as Alaa can tell you, the ability for Kefaya activists to organize via SMS and blogs isn’t sufficient to keep activists out of prison. […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » Finding reasons to laugh in Zimbabwe — June 23, 2006 @ 1:05 pm

  6. […] In the same way that folks like Dr. Awab Alvi helped his Indian blogger compatriots overcome their block, let’s hope that people who were concerned about the block in India can help call attention to the situations in Pakistan, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe as well. […]

    Pingback by …My heart’s in Accra » Indian Bloggers, 1, ISPs, 0 — July 21, 2006 @ 4:07 pm

  7. […] The real issue is that Ethiopia saw opposition political activity as a threat to regime stability.) Ethiopia briefly had a thriving and energetic blogosphere, but government censorship and harassment of bloggers quickly silenced many of those voices. The […]

    Pingback by Free Zone 9 Bloggers | ... My heart’s in Accra — July 31, 2014 @ 11:25 am

  8. […] The real issue is that Ethiopia saw opposition political activity as a threat to regime stability.) Ethiopia briefly had a thriving and energetic blogosphere, but government censorship and harassment of bloggers quickly silenced many of those voices. The […]

    Pingback by “The Zone 9 Bloggers are Writing from the Outer Ring of the Prison, the Nation Itself” · Global Voices — July 31, 2014 @ 12:15 pm

  9. […] The real issue is that Ethiopia saw opposition political activity as a threat to regime stability.) Ethiopia briefly had a thriving and energetic blogosphere, but government censorship and harassment of bloggers quickly silenced many of those voices. The […]

    Pingback by “The Zone 9 Bloggers are Writing from the Outer Ring of the Prison, the Nation Itself” - Global Voices Advocacy — July 31, 2014 @ 12:23 pm

  10. […] Regimes empfand.) Für kurze Zeit hatte Äthiopien eine blühende und lebhafte Blogosphäre, wie hier auf Englisch nachzulesen ist. Dann aber machte die Zensur und Schikanen der Blogger durch die Regierung viele […]

    Pingback by “Die Blogger von Zone 9 schreiben vom Außenring des Gefängnisses, aus dem Land selbst” · Global Voices auf Deutsch — August 1, 2014 @ 5:56 am

  11. […] le attività di opposizione politica come una minaccia alla stabilità del governo). L’Etiopia ha avuto per un breve spazio di tempo una fiorente ed energetica blogosfera, ma la censura governativa e la persecuzione dei blogger aveva messo a tacere velocemente molte […]

    Pingback by Etiopia: i blogger di Zone 9 scrivono dell’anello esterno della prigione, la nazione · Global Voices in Italiano — August 8, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

  12. […] Ethiopia briefly had a thriving and energetic blogosphere, but government censorship and harassment of bloggers quickly silenced many of those voices. The country’s independent press has been crippled by Ethiopia’s strategy of imprisoning the strongest journalistic voices, including PEN prizewinner Eskinder Nega, in the country’s notorious Kaliti Prison. […]

    Pingback by Once upon a time, there was a blog - Longway Factory — November 2, 2014 @ 9:00 am

  13. […] briefly had a thriving and energetic blogosphere, but government censorship and harassment of bloggers quickly silenced many of those voices. The […]

    Pingback by Once upon a time, there was a blog | Claudio Maria Lerario — January 7, 2015 @ 7:13 pm

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