Troubling news is coming out of East Africa this week. International news media site Al Jazeera has just picked up that on May 24th 2012, Ethiopia ratified new legislation called the ‘Ethiopian Telecom Service Infringement Law’. The Legislation criminalizes any third-party Internet services not run by the state controlled telecom monopoly, Ethio Telecom, with Skype being a focus. However, the ban affects other services, such as Google Talk.
The new telecom law is meant to impede Internet telephony, with reported punishments of heavy fines and 8 to 15 years in prison if caught. The legislation prohibits all network telephony traffic, along with audio and video data traffic via social media, reports the The Africa Review.
In order to catch people, Ethio Telecom has implemented brand new “deep packet” inspecting services to filter its citizens’ Net access to political opposition blogs and other news outlets. Reporters Without Boarders was first to report about the new Internet censorship tools going in to country that are specifically designed to also catch people using the popular Internet proxy anonymizer tool TOR, the onion router.
According to watchdog group OpenNet Initiative, Ethiopia currently has the second-lowest Internet penetration rate in sub-Saharan Africa and just around 700,000 of the country’s 84 million citizens had Internet access in 2010. The average Internet speed in Ethiopia, says Akamai, is currently 622 kbps.
When questioned about the reason for the ban and criminalization of outside VOIP services, particularly Skype, Ethiopian officials reportedly said at first it was for national security. They later let slip about concerns that Skype hurt the state-owned telecommunications company; the legislation also helps to squash independent journalism and bloggers over social media.
A recent ruling political party media workshop titled “Internet Management”, supported by China’s Communist Party, was held in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa. The workshop was headed up by Professor Gao Hongeim of the Chinese Leadership Academy. The head topic of the talk was about the experience of China regarding “mass media capacity building”, “mass media institution management” and “Internet management”.
This was reported by Ethiopia’s own ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. A quick ‘sanitized language’ to layman translation of the topics basically states China is teaching other countries how to censor and shut down its citizen right to free speech.