Monday, January 22, 2018

Leaked Documents Show That Ethiopia’s Ruling Elites Are Hiring Social Media Trolls (And Watching Porn) · Global Voices

EPRDF rally in Addis Ababa in 2010. Photo by Uduak Amimo/BBC World Service via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Over the past two months, a series of leaked documents from Ethiopia’s powerful political elites have been circulating online.
Among other revelations, the leaks show that the Ethiopian government has been paying online commenters to influence social media conversations in the ruling party's favour. The documents include hundreds of pages of chat logs and email correspondence of Ethiopia’s top government officials, multiple governments planning documents and top-secret meeting records.
The leaks have come at what may be a turning point in Ethiopia's recent political crisis. Since mid-2015, thousands across Ethiopia rose up, demanding more political freedoms and social equality and a stop to government land grabs in the Oromia region, which represents Ethiopia's largest ethnic group. The government response was brutal: Hundreds have been killed, thousands have been arrested, and critical voices — both on and offline — have been systematically silenced.
Among the recent leaks, which began to circulate on Facebook in November 2017, one of the most revealing documents is a list of individuals who appear to have been paid to promote the ruling coalition on social media. The list shows the names of the so-called “social media commentators” along with their job titles and a precise amount of money that they apparently received for their online postings. Most of the people listed are government employees.
The list corroborates previous evidence that the Ethiopian government has been hiring online commenters to promote its agenda and harass its opponents.
Online communities in Ethiopia have been calling these paid commenters “cocas”, a colloquialism in Amharic (the most widely spoken language in the country) that can be translated as “contemptible cadres.” In Amharic, this term typically refers to people who sell themselves for easy money. But in this case, most of the commenters listed in the leaked directory are already on the government payroll.

Who is responsible for the leaks?

The origin of the leaks has been rumoured and contested at several levels. The documents were originally sent to diaspora activists from the at least two Facebook accounts, both of which belong to government employees, in November 2017.
The first known leak, of the “coca” list, came from the Facebook account of Gebremichael Melles Gebremariam, an employee of the communications affairs office of the Tigray state. Gebremariam first denied sending the documents, claiming his account was hacked. But he then backtracked on this claim. It is now rumored that he has been dismissed from his job.
Soon after the initial leak, more documents began arriving in the inboxes of diaspora activists, this time coming from the Facebook account of the Director of the Federal Communications Affairs office, Haddush Kassu. Shortly thereafter, Haddush began to publicly shame those government officials who are implicated in the leaks. On January 18, he denigrated Deputy PM Debretsion Gebremichael in a public Facebook post.
It is unclear whether Haddush sent the documents himself have been hacked.

Social media ‘cocas’ push pro-government discourse

The revelations of political and state officials paying “costs” to promote the ruling party agenda online correspond with a recent rise in polarization and hate speech on social media, alongside increased online persecution of independent journalists.
The leaked “coca” list reveals that at least thirteen commentators were each paid at least USD $300 (a large sum in Ethiopia, where average GDP per capita was USD $660 in 2016) for blog posts or Facebook messages that they wrote at the behest of the ruling coalition.

List of paid internet commentators. Image widely circulating on Facebook
Among individuals named on the list are Daniel Berahane and Dawit Kebede, publishers of two Ethiopian internet news site HornAffairs and Awaramba Times respectively. The two journalists have long been accused of cheer-leading a pro-government information campaign, especially during a heightened political tension.
In recent years, independent Ethiopian journalists reporting on government affairs, corruption and human rights have been arrested or exiled en masse. The resulting gap in news coverage has thus been filled by opposition activists and protesters who often work with diaspora-based media outlets to draw global attention to the brutal military crackdown on protesters that has killed more than 1200 people and has led to several mass arrests since mid-2015.
On the heels of the list came a separate leak of what appears to be a proposal to counter opposition groups using social media platforms. The Amharic-language document from the office of Ethiopia’s longtime governing coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF), enumerates solutions and strategies to curtail the influence of online diaspora-based activists.
The document also describes how officials have ordered paid commenters to attack people who call for democracy and to praise the ideologies of the ruling coalition. The document encourages its members to post comments on the internet as if they were regular citizens.
Other documents show that Ethiopia’s spy agency, the Information Network Security Agency, known to surveil and censor journalists and political dissidents, issued a money order of USD $12,000 to send two of their employees to China for special training. The documents do not specify what kind of training the two employees were meant to receive, but this information has begun to come to light with the release of subsequent chat logs.
Five weeks after the list was leaked, another document surfaced showing a written exchange over Facebook Messenger between two high-level public servants —  Haddush Kassu and a high-level operative of Ethiopia’s spy agency, Zeray Hailemariam — who was furious about the leaks, and the disclosure of the paid commentators.
One said the leaks are threats to their security and pledged to seek help from  Information Network Security Agency to investigate the source of the leaks. The other blamed a “disgruntled regional communication officer” for leaking the names to diaspora-based political rivals.
At one point in the exchange, the operative of Ethiopia’s spy agency suggested that they should encourage a “brave soldier” like Daniel Berahane “who is fighting every extremist”. In response, the official from government communications affairs confirmed their support for him and wrote back “we pay him 33,000 [about USD $1200] for two articles.”
The exchange between the two top government officials also sheds light on the power struggle at the helm of Ethiopian ruling party, where infighting has led leaders to hire figures like Daniel and Dawit to undermine political opponents or curry favor with diplomats and foreign organizations in Addis Ababa. Daniel and Dawit have been leading voices in the pro-government media backlash against opposition activists and diaspora media.

And what is the Minister of Communication and Information Technology up to?

Other revelations have pointed to the online habit of Ethiopia’s former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Communication and Information Technology Dr. Debretsion Gebremicheal.
On December 16, 2017, member of the inner circle of the ruling party dumped screenshots of ten years browsing the history of Dr. Debretsion Gebremicheal on his Facebook page. The details only lasted for about two days. It was removed sometime on December 18, 2017 without any explanation.

ደብረጽየን ለራሱም ለሴቶችም ክብር የሌለው ሰው ነው። ደሞ ገብረሚካኤል ሃክ ተደረገ በሉ። ሰው አስሬ ሃክ ይደረጋል እንዴ? ዋይ 

Debretsion does not have a respect for woman as well as for himself. Okay, you can go ahead say my account was compromised. Does a person has to be hacked ten times? Hell no!
For Dr. Debretsion this looks especially bad because he could not even clean his browsing history or encrypt his online communications, which means it was much easier than usual for the hackers to steal his browsing history. It’s quite amateurish mistake for a person who brands himself as one of the country's top ‘intelligence’ personnel.
Abebe Gelaw, a prominent diaspora based journalist pieced together a revealing fifteen-page expose after he scrutinized over two hundred pages of Dr. Debretsion’s embarrassing and salacious browsing history.
But one of the most interesting aspects of the story itself was the sourcing of the revelations. The documents are said to originate from various sources, some say disgruntled insiders leaked them, others say hackers are responsible. But from an incoherent drip of leaks, a common outlook emerges that there is unprecedented power struggle happening among Ethiopia’s ruling elite.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ethiopia, Gambia, Sudan & Egypt score low marks in internet freedom survey | Africanews

Ethiopia, Gambia, Sudan & Egypt score low marks in internet freedom survey


According to a recent research on the use of the internet, online freedom around the world has declined for the sixth consecutive year.
The report titled ‘Freedom on the Net 2016 – Silencing the Messenger, Communication Apps Under Pressure’ added that two out of every three internet users – 67% – live in countries where online activities are largely censored.
The research was carried out by Freedom House, ‘‘an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world.’‘ It looked at 65 countries across the world and how they related to the use of the internet.
Governments are increasingly going after messaging applications like WhatsApp and Telegram, which can spread information quickly and securely.
The final report ranked countries on three main levels. ‘‘Free, Partly Free, Not Free.’‘ On a scale of 0 – 100, scores of 0 – 30 (Not Free), 31 – 60 (Partly Free) and 61 – 100 (Free), represented the three rankings respectively.
On the global scale, of the 65 countries, 17 were classified ‘Free’, 28 were ‘Partly Free’ and the remaining twenty were classed ‘Not Free.’ Four African countries made it to that rank.
An closer look at Africa’s candidates.
In all, 16 African countries were surveyed by the Freedom House team. The regional spread are as follows:
  • Five in North Africa – Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco
  • Two in West Africa – The Gambia and Nigeria
  • Four in East Africa – Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda
  • Five in Southern Africa – South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Malawi.
The findings indicated the following
Not Free = Ethiopia, Egypt, The Gambia and Sudan

Partly Free = Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Nigeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda

Free = South Africa and Kenya
All four countries considered ‘Not Free’ had internet penetration of between 12 and 36%. Only Sudan did not block social media and other political and social content. But all the others did that and also conducted arrests of bloggers and internet users.
Ethiopia is currently under a state of emergency with some of the rules being a restriction on access to social media. Anti government protests in the country are believed to have been largely instigated via social media.
Egypt, one of the countries that was hit by the recent Arab Spring has had rights groups accuse it of infringement on the rights of people.
The Gambia
The Gambia is notorious in human rights circles, with its leader, Yahya Jammeh being accused repeatedly of repression of the media and of opponents. The country heads to the polls in about a fortnight.
Sudan unlike Ethiopia, Egypt and The Gambia did not necessarily put restrictions on internet use but reportedly rounded up people for what the authorities see as abuse of the internet.
Other key findings of the research noted that:
  • Social media users face unprecedented penalties, as authorities in 38 countries made arrests based on social media posts over the past year.
  • Globally, 27 percent of all internet users live in countries where people have been arrested for publishing, sharing, or merely “liking” content on Facebook.
  • Governments are increasingly going after messaging applications like WhatsApp and Telegram, which can spread information quickly and securely.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

State involvement in Ethiopian killings probed | CAJ News Africa

Estimates say that over 400 Oromo protesters were killed in November 2015, and thousands others arrested by Ethiopian security forces during the protests.

Estimates say that over 400 Oromo protesters were killed in November 2015, and thousands others arrested by Ethiopian security forces during the protests.
From ADANE BIKILA in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA, (CAJ News) – RIGHTS groups are confident justice will prevail after the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for a United Nations-led independent investigation into the killing of hundreds of protesters in Ethiopia.

A parliamentary committee reported more than 600 people were killed between November 2015 and October 2016 as security forces responded brutally to anti-government protests. . Independent groups report as many as 800 have been killed.

Last Friday, a European Parliament resolution called on Federica Mogherini, the continent’s top diplomat, to mobilise European states to urgently pursue the setting up of the UN-led international inquiry head of the Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Switzerland next month.

It is hoped that implementing the resolution could help address the pervasive culture of impunity in Ethiopia.

Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher for the Horn of Africa, said the resolution reiterated the European Union’s recognition of the importance of justice to ensure Ethiopia’s long-term stability.

“To the many victims of Ethiopia’s brutality, a UN-led inquiry could at least begin to answer pleas for justice that too often have gone unheard.”

Apart from reported deaths of protesters in the East African country, an overly restrictive state of emergency has been in place for the past seven months, and tens of thousands people been detained under it.

Thousands of Ethiopians have fled since the protests and sought asylum in neighbouring countries.
 CAJ News

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ethiopian politician Yonatan Tesfaye guilty of terror charge - BBC News

  • 16 May 2017
  • From the sectionAfrica

Yonatan TesfayeImage copyrightYONATAN TESFAYE
Image captionYonatan Tesfaye now faces a sentence of up to 20 years

Ethiopian opposition politician Yonatan Tesfaye has been found guilty of encouraging terrorism for comments he made on Facebook.
He was arrested in December 2015 as a wave of anti-government protests in the Oromia region was gathering momentum.
The authorities objected to several posts including one in which he said the government used "force against the people instead of peaceful discussion".
Ethiopia has been criticised for using anti-terror laws to silence dissent.
Amnesty International described the charges as "trumped up", when they were confirmed in May 2016.
A section of Ethiopia's anti-terror law says that anyone who makes a statement that could be seen as encouraging people to commit an act of terror can be prosecuted.
In a translation of the charge sheet by the Ethiopian Human Rights Project that details the Facebook comments, Mr Yonatan allegedly said: "I am telling you to destroy [the ruling party's] oppressive materials... Now is the time to make our killers lame."
Mr Yonatan, who was a spokesperson for the opposition Blue Party, is due to be sentenced later this month and faces up to 20 years' imprisonment.

Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionProtesters from Oromia and Amhara have been complaining about political and economic marginalisation

The government faced unprecedented protests from November 2015 as people in the Oromia region complained of political and economic marginalisation.
The protests also spread to other parts of the country.
More than 600 people died in clashes between security forces and the demonstrators as the authorities tried to deal with the unrest, according to the state-affiliated Human Rights Commission.
The government introduced a state of emergency last October to bring the situation under control.
Opposition leader Merera Gudina was arrested last December for criticising the state of emergency and he is still being held.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ethiopia activist guilty of terrorism for Facebook posts | Daily Mail Online

A judge in Ethiopia's capital on Tuesday found a former opposition spokesman guilty of encouraging terrorism with a series of anti-government Facebook posts

A judge in Ethiopia's capital on Tuesday found a former opposition spokesman guilty of encouraging terrorism with a series of anti-government Facebook posts
A judge in Ethiopia's capital on Tuesday found a former opposition spokesman guilty of encouraging terrorism with a series of anti-government Facebook posts.
Yonatan Tesfaye was arrested in December 2015 after writing on the social media platform that the government had used "force against the people instead of using peaceful discussion with the public."
While Yonatan's lawyer and defence witnesses argued the former spokesman of the opposition Blue Party was exercising his right to free speech, judge Belayhun Awol ruled the comments "exceeded freedom of expression" and amounted to encouraging terrorism.
"I think the government's intent and what it seeks is this: to restrict others from speaking freely," Yonatan's lawyer Shebru Belete Birru told AFP after the verdict.
The guilty verdict for "encouragement of terrorism" means Yonatan faces a possible sentence of between 10 and 20 years under the country's anti-terrorism laws, which have been criticised by rights groups and Ethiopia's allies, such as the United States, for being used to stifle dissent.
Yonatan's comments came shortly after protesters belonging to the country's largest ethnic group, the Oromos, took to the streets in towns outside the capital Addis Ababa, claiming a plan to expand the city's boundaries into their region amounted to a land-grab.
The protests led Ethiopia's government to declare a state of emergency last October, which was extended for another four months in March.
Yonatan was originally charged with being a member of the banned separatist Oromo Liberation Front, but prosecutors changed the charges against him last year.
Shebru said he plans to appeal the verdict.