New York, May 24, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by reports that Web sites critical of the government have been inaccessible in Ethiopia since late last week. Several blogs have reported that the authorities are blocking sites, although the information minister denied this.
An Ethiopian blogger who goes by the alias Ethio-Zagol reported on May 18 that all blogs hosted by the popular platform blogspot.com were inaccessible. These included Ethio-Zagol’s own Web site, www.seminawork.blogspot.com, which runs frequent commentary and criticism of the ruling EPRDF coalition. CPJ sources confirmed that they could not access several prominent sites.
Andrew Heavens, a freelance journalist based in Addis Ababa who runs the Web site Meskel Square (http://www.meskelsquare.com/), told CPJ today that he was unable to access several popular Web sites known for their critical content. These included ethiopundit.blogspot.com and ethiopianpolitics.blogspot.com; the Web site of the rebel Oromo Liberation Front; and several antigovernment sites run by the Ethiopian diaspora including the well-known Ethiopian Review (www.ethiopianreview.homestead.com). Elias Kifle, the publisher of Ethiopian Review, was charged in absentia in December with treason, and an Addis Ababa-based correspondent for the Web site was imprisoned for six weeks this year before being released without charge. (For more information, see CPJ’s January 30 alert:.)
Information Minister Berhan Hailu told CPJ Monday that no Web sites were blocked within Ethiopia. Another Ethiopian government official, who asked not to be named, referred queries to the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), which controls Internet service within the country. Calls to the ETC today went unanswered.
A vast crackdown on the media, which began in November 2005, and the resulting widespread self-censorship have spurred many Ethiopian journalists and activists to turn to the Internet. Since the crackdown began, Ethiopian authorities have banned at least eight private publications, while others have been barred from publishing by government-controlled printers. Fourteen journalists are in jail facing trial for antistate crimes, and at least three more are imprisoned under Ethiopia’s repressive press law, according to CPJ research.
“We are deeply troubled by reports that Ethiopian authorities may be censoring the Internet, one of the few remaining avenues for free expression in the country,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “The people of Ethiopia have a right to access news and information on the Internet including critical Web sites.”