Reporters Without Borders said the Ethiopian government is attempting to censor state-run newspapers, dragging the country’s media freedom back more than two decades. Ethiopia, it said, would have censorship on par with communist leader “Mengistu Haile Mariam’s brutal dictatorship” that ended in 1991.
“Allowing printers to control editorial content is tantamount to give them court powers,” the group said. “On what basis do these state-owned companies assume the right and independence to interpret the law?”
“If this standard contract is adopted, we fear it could lead to widespread self-censorship, which is already very common, and to media subservience toward the government,” it added.
Ethiopia has cracked down on certain kinds of Internet use after the country’s only state-owned ISP Ethio-Telecom installed a system to block access to the Tor network that allows online communications.
Ethiopia is likely using a method called Deep Packet Inspection to filter its Internet, the watchdog said. The technique is used by China and Iran to censor Internet access by their users.
Tor, or The Onion Routing, is an open network that allows users to evade network surveillance and keep users anonymous. Tor said in a statement, after reports of Ethiopia’s use of Deep Packet Inspection emerged, that they have developed a way to circumvent it.
The country also forbids its users from using Skype and other Internet calling software, with violators receiving as many as 15 years in prison.
“This new law and the possibility that a Deep Packet Inspection system has been installed mark a turning point in the Ethiopian government’s control of the Internet,” Reporters Without Borders said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said the country’s recent efforts amount to controlling “all forms of communications” and that “authorities are obviously deeply threatened by any source of independent information, from critical journalism to sharing of information online.”
Local journalists have said that Ethiopia has attempted to control Internet-based services in the past several years and has cracked down on Internet cafes.