Ethiopia lifts filtering of critical Web sites–at least for now

Journalists in Ethiopia informed CPJ over the weekend that our Web site, which was blocked to Internet users in the capital, Addis Ababa, since August, was accessible again. 

Independent Ethiopian online news forums and blogs based outside the country also reported that sites discussing political dissent and human rights were also suddenly accessible. The editors of the sites linked the development to the February 25 release of the U.S. State Department’s “2008 Human Rights Report” on Ethiopia. The report accused the government of restricting Internet access to its citizens and of “blocking opposition Web sites.”

Ethiopian authorities have consistently denied the accusation despite documented evidence gathered by OpenNet Initiative, an academic partnership that studies Internet censorship.

There has not been any public reaction from the government about this development, according to local journalists. However, a local editor who spoke to me on Tuesday on condition of anonymity told me that a temporary lifting of Internet filtering has been a common occurrence in recent years. 

Following a brutal crackdown on free media and political dissent in 2005, Internet users attempting to access sites and blogs critical of the government on the network of the state-controlled national provider Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation have seen “the page cannot be displayed” messages. In February, when CPJ launched its 2008 report on worldwide press freedom, which included a critical analysis of conditions in Ethiopia, local journalists reported that they could not access our Web site. In recent months, some local journalists have also reported their inability to send e-mails to a CPJ e-mail address.

We’ll have to wait and see whether, as international attention turns away from Ethiopia, the sites yet again disappear from view.