Ethiopia: Crack Down on Skype Raising Eyebrows

The new telecommunications law in Ethiopia that criminalizes the use of Internet-based voice and video communications, is rasing eyebrows around the world. (Photo credit: MOTOVA)

Tadias Magazine

Updated: Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Do you skype? If you reside in Ethiopia you could do some serious jail time for using the popular online phone service. According to a new telecommunications law that criminalizes VoIP, violators could face up to 15 years in prison. The rule, which appears to be intended to control the press, now extends to all Ethiopian citizens. Not surprisingly, the legislation is raising eyebrows around the world.

In an article entitled Using Skype in Ethiopia Could Land You in Jail, PC Magazine noted that only 360,000 people, or 0.4% of the nation’s 82 million citizens, had online access in June 2009 and that internet even in Addis Ababa is often slow and unreliable. Yet the country has one of the harshest anti-Internet laws in the world.

In another story, The Los Angles Times offered advice for those traveling to Ethiopia, alerting potential tourists to watch out for the online cops. “If you use Skype, you could be there 15 years,” the newspaper wrote.

And given Ethiopia’s recent efforts to project the country as an attractive investment destination, the The Atlantic Magazine mused: “Why Does Ethiopia Want to Give People 15 Years in Jail for Using Skype?” The magazine noted that one of Africa’s biggest economic success stories, Ethiopia is also one of its least wired. “This new law and other, increasingly draconian restrictions are a sign of how far it still has to go,” the publication observed.

The BBC was more succinct “Ethiopia clamps down on Skype and other internet use,” the broadcaster declared.

In a recent post on the Global Voices website, Ethiopian tech blogger Markos Lemma, features an interview with Geraldine de Bastion, a Berlin-based international consultant on information and communication technology discussing the state of social media in Ethiopia. “From what I experienced during my first visit to Ethiopia is that there is a big demand for information and communication in general and social media are being discovered as one means for people to have their say,” Bastion said. “Because of the low internet penetration, social media at present is reserved for the few who do have access — but this small social media community is using social media platforms such as Facebook and twitter in creative ways to further information exchange.” She added: “However, the influence of citizen media on political decision making is not yet visible — mainly because of the lack of Internet penetration and lack of ability to reach a broad audience within in the country. Also, there is a sense of fear of repression against critical voices although many bloggers are still navigating under the radar of those in power.”

According to Bastion, the Ethiopian government is also now undertaking deep packet inspection of all Internet traffic. “They compare this kind of action to the censorship and spying on private communication conducted by China, Iran, and Kazakhstan,” she said. “With the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation still being the sole telecommunication service provider in Ethiopia, there is no way to escape the eye of the state for Ethiopians online.”

Authorities justify the new measure on the basis of national security, but considering that less than 1% of Ethiopia’s citizens have internet access this law seems an overreach.

A 30-second Skype call in Ethiopia could land you 15 years in prison (NY Daily News)
Going to Ethiopia? If you use Skype, you could be there 15 years (LA Times)

18 Responses to “Ethiopia: Crack Down on Skype Raising Eyebrows”

  1. 1 Wolansa T. Jun 17th, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    This is absurd! Some time you wonder what the heck this ppl are thinking!

  2. 2 Tazabit Jun 17th, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Ooops Tele, Yeqotun awerd bila yebibituan talech!

  3. 3 Smar Jun 17th, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    It is ridiculous and surprised by hearing this news that Ethiopian government is outlawing usage of skype for voice communications while it is doing good in attracting facilitating to foreign investors to come and invest in Ethiopia and the significant growth in GDP is one good example to this . Just for security reasons to forbid citizens to utilize SKYPE for their communication with their family members ,relatives,friends and etc is not a wise decision . Should it be security , would have to discuss ideas and share information with those countries who are good friends to Ethiopia and advanced in IT & security technology how to control and monitor if necessary spying and transferring spy information from enemy and not good countries that may damage Ethiopian unity,the progress in development even if from suspected Ethiopians hired by foreign intelligence but not totally to ban the entire people . Where it goes the governments ambition and encouraging youths to use IT technology for their advancement in education, research and development ? and thus, their plan to build an IT Complex or City when they ban a micro part of this technology to blind and deafen the people . When and where is the government to cultivate and grow today’s youth and hopes of tomorrow that defend the country by arming themselves in education and new technologies . It is real a sad news not only to all Ethiopians but also friends of Ethiopia and for investors who consider to come to Ethiopia for investment.

  4. 4 አሰፋ በለው Jun 17th, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    የመለስ አስተዳደር ከክፋት ወደ ጥፋት እየሄደ ነው። የብዙ አገዛዞች መልክ እየነቀዘ የሚሄደው ተገዚዎቻቸው በተፋለሙ ቁጥር የጭቆናውን ቀንበር እያጠበቁት በመሄዳቸው ነው። በማንም ግዜ አምባገነን ወንበዴዎች ሥልጣን ይዘው፣ የምንጨቁነው ህዝብ ጠልቶናልና ቦታ እንልቀቅ ብለው አያውቁም፣ እንዲያውም የኑሮ ግዜያቸውን ለማራዘም ህዝቡን በይበልጥ እያነቁት ይሄዳሉ። ይህ በታሪክ ውስጥ ደግሞ ደጋግሞ የታየ ጉዳይ ነው። ኢሕኣዴግም ከዚህ የተለየ አልሆነም። መልኩ እያመረቀዘ፣ ከክፋተኛ ወደ ጥፋተኛ ተዛውሯል። የህዝቡን የመረጃ መስመር ማነቅ የትም አያደርስም። ህዝቡን በኦሪት ግዜ አሰራር አምቆ እኛ የምናጎርስህን ብቻ ተቀበል ማለት የትም አያደርስም። ህይወት መፈናፈኛ ታሻለች፣ የኢትዮጵያም ህዝብ መውጫ መፈለጉን አያቋርጥም። ትግሉ ይቀጥላል ይህ መዥገር ከላያችን ላይ እስኪነሳ ድረስ።

  5. 5 Meron Jun 17th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    Huh? if you use skype you can go to jail? what? how retarded!

  6. 6 Iu Jun 17th, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    Why a country forget IT is the main driver of economic development? This is a suicide. Unless otherwise you don’t want to drive. The country into a ditch, you won’t play with IT. Good luck ihadige with your stupid policy

  7. 7 Abiye Tekle Jun 17th, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    A law which is passed in the name of national security is the disease of which it pretends to be the cure…

  8. 8 SHEGER Jun 17th, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    Ere skype friend!! Woy zendro! Wodefit guzo endezi new.

  9. 9 Saba Jun 18th, 2012 at 12:41 am

    This law makes no sense what so ever. So disappointed. This is what I call one step forward and six steps backward.


  10. 10 Woy-good Jun 18th, 2012 at 12:53 am

    Somebody @ Ethiopia telecom came-up with this idiotic idea!!!! Totally incomprehensible and puzzling!

  11. 11 Addis Jun 18th, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Internet connective is 0.4% in the country. Ethiopia is the second lowest (next to Serra Leon). Everything measured in the country is the lowest. Twenty one years later under this regime we are surprised on the ban of skype. Do you know there is one TV station in the whole country of 85 million? What does that alone tell us about the regime or the government? It tells us there is a lawless regime. That is the question before us not skype. The answer is simple. The regime has no mandate to govern thus, illegal on the top of corrupt. It is rightly afraid it will go down if people have access to communication to find out what it does. Therefore, it comes up with all kinds of laws and diversion as a pretext to prevent people to communicate.

  12. 12 Mamo Jun 18th, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    What’s Telecome’s job? It is to help people communicate or prevent people from communicating? This has nothing to do with National security, it’s about “party security”. Good luck EPRDF with your devil, paranoid agenda!

  13. 13 Ramadan Jun 18th, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Yeferi policy! They are afraid of the people. What a life? To be scared like this all the time.

  14. 14 Addis Democracy Party Jun 19th, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    It is all about Skype. If it was not for Skype, why would PC Mag be interested? Believe it or not it’s been suggested that Alzaeera, BBC are making much ado about nothing. Why? Because the law passed in May and that the government had surveillance for years (Big surprise there, huh). You are probably thinking it must be EPRDF’s afe kelate. Wrong!! Apparently, it is coming from an opponent (Really). Go figure that one out! As the Chinese say, “we live in an interesting time!” In any case, its the latest assault on the human rights of the people!

  15. 15 Marshmellow Jun 19th, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Dear Ethiopian Government,

    Since you are at it, go ahead and shut down Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo! Heck, shut down the whole tele company! Who needs it?

    Dear PC MAG, BBC, Aljazera, Atlantic:

    You all should look the other way! This thing has been going on for a long time without you paying a penny attention! I encourage you to continue to skip that story!

    Thank you very much!

    Ethiopia lezelalem tinur!

  16. 16 Awake Jun 20th, 2012 at 2:10 am

    i AM shocked that only 0.4% I have seen 0.7% all under one percent of internet availability! Sorry if I sound stupid but I was under the impression somehow that we had advanced a little bit more than that! We have wayzzz to go to catch up even with tiny Somaliland! They have faster and better connection.

  17. 17 Jeblo Jun 21st, 2012 at 5:26 am

    Yea way to go bravo now u’ve done it our elite leaders I bet none of those legislators don’t even understand what they have done. This is what happens when a country is led by a bunch of hoodlums who think they’ve figured every thing out. With this stupid wisdom of yours ‘The so called Government ‘; it is good to expect u will ban Ethiopians bread too. ጉድጓዳችሁን በደንብ እየቆፈራችሁ ነው whic is good for us freedom is coming soon.

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