Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ethiopia: Terrorism Law Used to Crush Free Speech | - Somali News in English

Donors Should Condemn Verdicts, Demand Legal Reforms
(Nairobi) – Ethiopian high court on June 27, 2012, convicted 24 journalists, political opposition leaders, and others under Ethiopia’s deeply flawed anti-terrorism law, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Ethiopian government should immediately drop all politically motivated charges against the defendants and amend the law’s most pernicious provisions, which are being used to criminalize free expression and peaceful dissent, Human Rights Watch said.
In the third high-profile “terrorism” verdict in the past six months, Eskinder Nega Fenta, an independent journalist and blogger, was one of six journalists convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009. Their sentencing is expected on July 13.
Eskinder Nega, who was recently honored with the prestigious PEN America press freedom award, is in detention in Addis Ababa, and was convicted of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life imprisonment or death,as well as participation in a terrorist organization and treason. The other five journalists were convicted in absentia. A total of 11 journalists have been charged or convicted under the anti-terrorism law since December 2011, including two Swedish journalists who were arrested while trying to investigate the conflict in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region.
“This case shows that Ethiopia’s government will not tolerate even the mildest criticism,” saidLeslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The use of draconian laws and trumped-up charges to crack down on free speech and peaceful dissent makes a mockery of the rule of law.”
Members of the political opposition were also among those convicted under the law on June 27.
Andualem Arage Wale and Nathnael Mekonnen Gebre Kidan, prominent members of Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), a registered opposition political party, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts as well as participation in a terrorist organization and treason as was Kinfemichael Debebe Bereded, a member of the All Ethiopian Democratic Party (AEDP).
The convictions bring the total known number of individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges to 34, including 11 journalists, at least 4 opposition supporters and 19 others.
The anti-terrorism law’s most problematic provisions were used during this trial, Human Rights Watch said.
Two of the journalists tried in absentia, Mesfin Negash and Abiye Tekle Mariam, were convicted under the law’s article on support for terrorism, which contains a vague prohibition on “moral support.” This provision is contrary to the principle of legality, which requires that people be able to determine what acts would constitute a crime. Only journalists have been charged and convicted under this article.
All of the 24 defendants were initially charged with “terrorist acts.” Human Rights Watch has repeatedly raised concerns over the law’s broad definition of “terrorist acts,” which can be used to prosecute lawful, peaceful dissent. Similarly, all defendants were initially charged with “encouragement of terrorism,” which includes the publication of statements “likely to be understood as encouraging terrorist acts,” a provision that Human Rights Watch has warned could be used against government critics and journalists who even publish the names of organizations or individuals deemed to be terrorists.
“The Ethiopian government is using every means at its disposal to shut down press freedom,” Lefkow said. “Ethiopia’s international partners should immediately call for the release of the many journalists and opposition supporters unlawfully prosecuted, and for the revision of the law that put them behind bars.”
Ethiopian courts have little independence from the government. As in earlier terrorism trials, the trial of the 24 was marred by serious due process violations, Human Rights Watch said. The defendants had no access to legal counsel during almost two months of pre-trial detention and complaints of mistreatment and torture by defendants were not appropriately investigated.
Nathnael Mekonnen told the court that during his pre-trial detention he was tortured for 23 days, including being beaten, forced to stand for hours upon end, deprived of sleep, and having cold water repeatedly poured over him at the notorious Maekelawi facility. His complaints were not investigated. According to credible sources, Andualem Arage lodged a complaint after he was beaten by a convicted prisoner on February 15 in Kaliti prison, but his complaint was dismissed. The court prevented further questioning by defense attorneys and accepted as fact the response by the prison administrator that contradicted Andualem’s claims, without further investigation.
Furthermore, the Ethiopian authorities and government media have repeatedly undermined defendants’ presumption of innocence. In October 2011 Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told the Ethiopian parliament that the journalists and political opposition members arrested under the law were guilty of terrorism.
In late November state-run Ethiopian Television (ETV) broadcast a three-part program called “Akeldama” (“Land of Blood”) in which several of the defendants, including Andualem Arage and Nathnael Mekonnen, were filmed in detention, seemingly under duress, describing their alleged involvement in what the documentary brands a “terrorist plot.” Allegations were also made against Eskinder Nega. The court reportedly dismissed the complaints of due process violations against the defendants on the grounds that the video footage was not produced as evidence by the prosecutor.
The same court later charged the editor of the independent weekly newspaper Feteh, Temesghen Desalegn, of contempt of court for having among other things reproduced verbatim statements made by a defendant. The courts in Ethiopia have little independence from the government.
“The courts trying cases under the anti-terrorism law have repeatedly run roughshod over the rights of defendants,” Lefkow said. “Judicial independence has all but vanished in any politically sensitive case in Ethiopia.”
Report by
Human Rights Watch

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ethiopians Journalists terrorism Verdict is delayed up unto June 27 2012

ADDIS ABABA — An Ethiopian judge has again delayed the verdict in the case of 24 people charged with terrorism, including a prominent journalist and an opposition member, a defence lawyer said Thursday.
The verdict is now expected to be delivered on June 27, in order to give the judges time to "evaluate and pass a decision", lawyer Abebe Guta said.
Among those charged are prominent journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition member Andualem Arage. Both appeared in court in suits and smiled and waved to friends and family as they filed into the courtroom.
The courtroom was packed with family members, journalists and diplomats, including US Ambassador Donald Booth.
This is the second time the verdict has been delayed. Judges were expected to deliver a ruling on May 11, but said the defendants' case had not been transcribed in full.
Eskinder was honoured in New York last month with a "freedom to write" award from the US-based media watchdog PEN.
He was arrested last year after publishing articles asking whether the Arab Spring uprisings could have an influence in Ethiopia and questioning the arrests of Ethiopians under the country's anti-terrorism law.
He is one of 11 independent journalists and bloggers charged with terrorism since 2011, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which says Ethiopia's media is one of the most restricted in the world.
Rights groups have accused Ethiopian officials of using anti-terrorism legislation to stifle peaceful dissent.
The 24 on trial were charged with terrorism in September 2011, and could face the death penalty if found guilty.

Ethiopia Shows That Congress Is Right to Be Worried About UN Control of the Internet

Steve DelBianco
Today a key committee in the US Congress approved a resolution opposing United Nations "control over the Internet." While some in the Internet community have dismissed the bipartisan effort as mere political grandstanding, recent actions by some UN Member States show that lawmakers have good reason to be worried.
Last month, UN voting member Ethiopia made it a crime — punishable by 15 years in prison — to make calls over the Internet. The Ethiopian government cited national security concerns, but also made it clear that it wants to protect the revenues of the state-owned telecom monopoly. (those guys really hate it when people use free Internet calling services like Skype and Google Talk)
The news out of Ethiopia is just the latest indication that many UN members don't think too highly of the free and open Internet, or of its multi-stakeholder governance model. Aside from the Ethiopian law, we've heard a drumbeat of news about governments seeking to regulate and tax the Internet through the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai.
So while some Internet insiders snicker at Congress and its nonbinding resolution, I give props to those lawmakers for having the courage and savvy to focus on this issue.
Over and over again in recent months, United Nations supporters — including ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure — have publicly scoffed at the notion that the WCIT and the renegotiation of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR) treaty will lead to UN control of the Internet.
But the words and actions of ITU member states, not to mention the text of the proposals they are offering in advance of WCIT, reveal that governments and multi-governmental bodies openly covet a bigger role in Internet governance.
One of the key areas for debate at WCIT will be how developing country telecom monopolies can regain the revenue they lose when their citizens use free internet calling services. With the news out of Ethiopia, we've seen how at least one ITU member proposes to solve that problem.
It's frightening to consider applying wire-line telecom regulations and tariffs to international Internet traffic. Those regulations have the potential to dramatically impact traffic flows, censor content, and raise access costs for precisely the same populations that stand to benefit most from a free and open Internet.
In fact, states like Ethiopia should embrace the broad economic upside of letting their businesses and citizens take advantage of convenient and inexpensive Internet communications. That could mean less revenue for a state-owned telecom monopoly, but to maximize GDP you want to encourage Gross Domestic Product — not Government-Directed Profits.
Now, these tariffs and regulations become even more insidious when you consider the byzantine ITU and UN policymaking process, as I described here.
The name of the game in big multi-governmental bodies is coalition building, or what we used to call "horse trading". In the one nation/one vote world, the only way for powerful countries like China to get anything done is to buy allies by offering to support issues like economic aid and — you guessed it — telecom tariffs.
So picture a world where some portion of Internet oversight resides with the UN, ITU, or some new multinational body. Now imagine how easy it will be for China to scratch Ethiopia's back on something like telecom tariffs, in exchange for a vote favoring Internet censorship. Not only is this possible, it's precisely what countries like China and Russia want to see happen.
Before we embrace the rule of 'one nation/one vote' to govern the Internet, let's understand how many of those governments will vote once the UN makes the rules. And they're not being all that secretive about it — Vladimir Putin wants to vest the UN with "International control of the Internet."
In the International environment, the United States is an easy target and nonbinding Congressional resolutions are causally dismissed. But wherever in the world you live, it's worth hearing Washington's alarm and knowing that the threat is real.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Skyping in Ethiopia could result in 15 years of prison | Digital Trends

Traveling to Ethiopia? Steer clear of using Skype and Google Voice services or you might face up to 15 years in jail.
Call me maybe, but not via the Internet in Ethiopia.
As if it’s not enough that we’ve bid our goodbyes to Skype, here’s another reason to begin boycotting the service. Under a new legislation passed by Ethiopian laws, a 30-second Skype call made in the African country can land you in 15 years of jailtime, reports Al Jazeera. Citing issues of national security, the Ethiopian government states that any Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services, including Google Voice, will now be considered criminal offense.
The drastic new law, recently passed at the end of May, was claimed necessary in order to protect the country from security threats. However, experts are calling other factors, such as VOIP services hurting state-owned telecommunications carrier Ethio Teleco and limiting freedom of expression, the true reasons.
“Internet cafes may be allowing people to make calls for far less than the cost of Ethiopia telecom, the state’s telecommunications provider that has the monopoly and charges very high prices — and doesn’t want to have its service undermined,” former BBC Ethiopia correspondent Elizabeth Blunt told BBC.
When citizens use VOIP services to make affordable calls, they also block authorities from monitoring these online activities. “Skype can’t be listened to so easily and can’t be controlled,” Blunt said. 
Furthermore, the law continues to prohibit much of online communication, including video chatting, social media, and even e-mail (the above photo was taken in 2005). If citizens are found making calls over the Internet, they could face up to eight years of prison plus fines. Illegal phone services like Skype and Google Voice carry heavier punishments of up to 15 years in jail and larger fines.
Ethiopia is currently the second lowest Internet-penetrated country in sub-Saharan Africa, the first being Sierra Leone. Approximately 700,000 of Ethiopia’s 85 million citizens had Internet access in 2010, reports Internet filtering and censorship watchdog OpenNet Initiative. As of 2006, those who accessed the Web via Internet cafes were also required to register their name and address so the government can track down online illegal activities. Even though e-mail service websites, major search engines, and VOIP service homepages are not currently blocked in Ethiopia, a draconian punishment is likely to keep citizens clear of online forms of communication.
However, there may still be hope for such technology in the future, claims the blog Transforming Ethiopia. ”[H]aving a television satellite dish was a criminal act in Ethiopia 15 years before,” the post states. “Ironically, even low-cost houses built by the government, dubbed condominiums, are now swarmed by the devices.”
The blog also noted that credit cards were also considered illegal for some time. ”Both examples show the distrust that the Ethiopian state has always had towards technological advancement.”
If so, we could only wonder how the first jailed citizens of VOIP users would feel when they get out of prison 15 years from now to find Skype possibly legal

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ethiopian dictator's Confusion over new communication legislation closed VOA

Ethiopia has passed new legislation that will make the use of Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) like Skype and Google Talk illegal and punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Map of Ethiopia
The new legislation is not yet in force, but threatens freedom of communication in a country where the government monitors the only telecommunications firm.
State owned Ethio-Telecom, proposed the new law, which was endorsed a few weeks ago, as the country claims to be dealing with external security threats.
The new legislation had for a while escaped local and international attention, but a furore is building in and outside the country.
"If the government starts to control all these activities, this is really a violation of people's rights to freedom of speech and expression," said Tesema Molla, who was using Skype in one internet café in Addis Ababa.
The new law might also affect internet cafe owners, who were reporting brisk business thanks to Skype and other VOIP sites.
"People are using all these technologies in my internet cafe. I am not aware about the new legislation," said Misrak Belay, an internet café owner in the city.
She said she and other internet owners have not yet been informed about the illegality of the service.
"We are really confused what to do. If they start to come and ask me why I am doing it, it is really a serious problem, which will force me to close my business," said Belay.
According to the new legislation, a one minute call using Skype in Ethiopia can land you a 15-year prison sentence or a huge fine.
The law also gives the government the right to inspect any imported of voice communication equipment as well as the power to ban any inbound packages that do not have prior permission from the state.
A number of sites are blocked in Ethiopia, as the government fears these are used by opposition members and human rights organisation.
The government also jams several radio stations such as the VOA's Amharic programme, which had become a source of alternative news for many.
Ethiopia accuses the VOA Amharic programme of aggravating and inciting violence, especially after the 2005 election, where about 200 people were killed.
The new legislation is seen as a continuation of government's plan to stifle access to information.
Ethio-Telecom declined to comment on the new legislation.

Ethiopian government outlaws VOIP, 15-year prison sentences possible

Troubling news is coming out of East Africa this week. International media site Al Jazeera has just picked up that on May 24th 2012, Ethiopia ratified new legislation called the 'Ethiopian Telecom Service Infringement Law'. The Legislation criminalizes any third-party Internet services not run by the state controlled telecom monopoly, Ethio Telecom, with Skype being a focus. However, the ban affects other services, such as Google Talk.
The new telecom law is meant to impede Internet telephony, with reported punishments of heavy fines and 8 to 15 years in prison if caught. The legislation prohibits all network telephony traffic, along with audio and video data traffic via social media, reports the The Africa Review.
In order to catch people, Ethio Telecom has implemented brand new "deep packet" inspecting services to filter its citizens' Net access to political opposition blogs and other news outlets.Reporters Without Boarders was first to report about the new Internet censorship tools going in to country that are specificly designed to also catch people using the popular Internet proxy anonoymizer tool TOR, the onion router.
According to watchdog group OpenNet Initiative, Ethiopia currently has the second-lowest Internet penetration rate in sub-Saharan Africa and just around 700,000 of the country’s 84 million citizens had Internet access in 2010. The average Internet speed in Ethiopia, says Akamai, is currently 622 kbps.
When questioned about the reason for the ban and criminalization of outside VOIP services, particularly Skype, Ethiopian officials reportedly said at first it was for national security. They later let slip about concerns that Skype hurt the state-owned telecommunications company; the legislation also helps tosquash independent journalism and bloggers over social media.
A recent ruling political party media workshop titled "Internet Management", supported by China's Communist Party, was held in Ethiopia's capital city of Addis Ababa. The workshop was headed up by Professor Gao Hongeim of the Chinese Leadership Academy. The head topic of the talk was about the experience of China regarding "mass media capacity building", "mass media institution management" and "Internet management".
This was reported by Etheopia's own ruling party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front. A quick 'sanitized language' to layman translation of the topics basicly states China is teaching other countries how to censor and shut down its citizen right to free speech.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ethiopia clamps down on Skype and other internet use on Tor-BBC News -

Campaigners have warned of fresh efforts by the Ethiopian government to clamp down on certain types of internet use in the country.
Reporters Without Borders says that the authorities have installed a system to block access to the Tor network - a "hidden" layer of the internet, used to allow anonymous online communications.
Users already face up to 15 years in jail if they use Skype or similar internet call services.
Addis Ababa has not provided a comment.
"The Ethiopian government is trying to attack every means of information exchange," Ambroise Pierre from the Reporters Without Borders Africa service told BBC News.
"There's already a very strict control over written press, and last year several journalists were arrested, and now the government is tackling communications over the internet.
"More and more people in Ethiopia are turning to new technologies, and some are even able to bypass censorship, which explains why the government is trying to use effective methods to control internet communications."
Government control

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This is a country where surveillance is very important - due to years of all the conflicts and political rivalry”
Ambroise PierreReporters Without Borders
Al Jazeera recently reported that Ethiopia passed a law on 24 May criminalising the use of Voip (voice over internet protocol) calls. It said the maximum sentence was 15 years in jail.
Other local reports have said that individuals providing such services face sentences of up to eight years, and users could also be imprisoned for using banned social media sites.
The BBC could not independently confirm the details.
While criminalising such acts may be new, Ethiopia has long restricted internet use.
"I used a British internet telephony provider, but [the government eventually] blocked the ports," said Elizabeth Blunt, the BBC's former Ethiopia correspondent who worked in Addis Ababa between 2007 and 2009.
She added that there were two reasons for the authorities to prohibit internet communications.
"Internet cafes may be allowing people to make calls for far less than the cost of Ethiopia telecom, the state's telecommunications provider that has the monopoly and charges very high prices - and doesn't want to have its service undermined," says Ms Blunt.
"But there is also the issue that Skype can't be listened to so easily and can't be controlled."
Reporters Without Borders said it was concerned the latest effort to block access to Tor might be the first step towards creating a system that would allow the authorities to intercept any email, social network post or Voip call made in the country.
"This is a country where surveillance is very important - due to years of all the conflicts and political rivalry," said Mr Pierre.
"The opposition and the media are being listened to, and people usually take care when they talk on the phone.
"We've had in the past certain cases of blocking websites of independent and opposition parties, so censorship isn't new - but now it's a new stage, and what Reporters Without Borders is worried about, is that [by criminalising] communications by Skype, the government is implem

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ethiopia tightens crackdown over news and information sites - Sudan Tribune: Plural news and views on Sudan

June 10, 2012 (PARIS) - Reporters Without Borders has accused Ethiopia of further intensifying press and internet censorship using sophisticated technology used to selectively block websites.
According to Reporters Without Borders, the state owned Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation, the country’s only internet service provider, during past few weeks has begun blocking access to the Tor network, an online system that allows users to anonymously browse blocked websites.
The so called Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), is an advanced network filtering method mainly used by countries which have bad press freedom records commonly known as “Enemies of the Internet” such as China and Iran.
“We fear that DPI will be misused for surveillance purposes by a government that already subjects the political opposition and privately-owned media to a great deal of harassment” said the group.
Reporters Without Borders urged Ethiopian authorities to refrain from installing and exercising this filtering tool.
Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) was originally developed to block access to porn sites, however some countries abuse the system and instead use it for blocking politically sensitive websites and to quickly gag expression or views of government opponents.
Reporters Without Borders further accused Ethiopia’s giant state printer, Berhanena Selam, and other state owned printers, of trying to impose political censorship on media content prior to publication.
The proposed “standard contract for printing” recently circulated by state printers, allows them the right to vet and reject articles prior to printing.
“This new law and the possibility that a Deep Packet Inspection system has been installed could drag Ethiopia back more than two decades as regards to media freedom, to the time of Mengistu’s brutal dictatorship in pre 1991 Ethiopia”.
"If this standard contract is adopted, we fear it could lead to widespread self-censorship, which is already very common, and to media subservience towards the government. Criticism, independence and media diversity would all suffer, and the vitality of Ethiopian democracy would suffer as well.”
According to Reporters Without Borders’ Press freedom Index 2011-2012 Ethiopia is listed 127 of 179 countries. Eritrea and North Korea have the most restrictive press environments.