One day they arrested me and they showed me everything. They showed me a list of all my phone calls and they played a conversation I had with my brother. They arrested me because we talked about politics on the phone. It was the first phone I ever owned, and I thought I could finally talk freely.
— Former member of an Oromo opposition party, now a refugee in Kenya, May 2013
Human Rights Watch: Since 2010, Ethiopia’s information technology capabilities have grown by leaps and bounds. Although Ethiopia still lags well behind many other countries in Africa, mobile phone coverage is increasing and access to email and social media have opened up opportunities for young Ethiopians—especially those living in urban areas—to communicate with each other and share viewpoints and ideas.
The Ethiopian government should consider the spread of Internet and other communications technology an important opportunity. Encouraging the growth of the telecommunications sector is crucial for the country to modernize and achieve its ambitious economic growth targets.
Instead, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of ethnically-based political parties in power for more than 20 years, continues to severely restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. It has used repressive laws to decimate civil society organizations and independent media and target individuals with politically-motivated prosecutions. The ethnic Oromo population has been particularly affected, with the ruling party using the fear of the ongoing but limited insurgency by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the Oromia region to justify widespread repression of the ethnic Oromo population. Associations with other banned groups, including Ginbot 7, are also used to justify repression.
As a result, the increasing technological ability of Ethiopians to communicate, express their views, and organize is viewed less as a social benefit and more as a political threat for the ruling party, which depends upon invasive monitoring and surveillance to maintain control of its population.
The Ethiopian government has maintained strict control over Internet and mobile technologies so it can monitor their use and limit the type of information that is being communicated and accessed. [Continue reading…]