Reliable sources in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa have informed CPJ this week that our site was inaccessible on the servers of the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation, the country’s official Internet service provider. A handful of separate Internet users in the country have independently confirmed seeing “The page cannot be displayed” messages when attempting to access our site. The same sources have reported that e-mails they have tried to send to CPJ have not gone through.
Web sites, particularly foreign-based independent sites and blogs discussing political reform and human rights, have been blocked on a recurring basis in Ethiopia since the government cracked down on free media following disputed elections in 2005. In 2007, OpenNet said it has gathered “overwhelming evidence” that Ethiopia was among the nations worldwide restricting the Internet access of its citizens.
This time, the reports emerged over the weekend as CPJ was investigating the detention of newspaper editor Amare Aregawi in northern Ethiopia. Last year, sources in the country disclosed that the CPJ site was blocked on World Press Freedom Day, when CPJ named Ethiopia the world’s worst backslider on press freedom. The moves are part of the Ethiopian government’s pattern of restricting coverage of issues deemed sensitive such as the political activities of the foreign-based opposition, the high-profile trial of Ethiopian pop singer Teddy Afro, food shortage conditions, or the insurgency in the western Ogaden region.
Authorities have repeatedly denied blocking Web sites, even casting doubt “if the problem really exists,” to quote Information Ministry Spokesman Zemedkun Tekle.
This week, in a telephone interview with CPJ, Bereket Simon, a top senior advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, echoed the same position. “The government has no policy of blocking Web sites. Accessibility to any Web site is open,” he told me. He said he had not received any complaints from Ethiopians about blocked sites, and questioned whether such reports were credible. The government has no control over foreign-based sites, he said.
In July, Simon asserted that the mushrooming of private electronic media in Ethiopia was a sign that political dissent and free speech were not “shrinking.” Still, many foreign-based news and human rights sites besides ours–including the popular U.S.-based Nazret—remain inaccessible.