Web watchdog the OpenNet Initiative this week confirmed that the Ethiopian government has been blocking scores of anti-government websites and millions of blogs hosted by Google's Blogger service (see Reuters story).
Ethiopian bloggers responded to the news with a string of defiant posts, vowing to continue writing and beat the blockages.
But the announcement also sparked a debate over the dangers of free speech after one of the blocked websites published an article applauding separatist rebels for slaughtering 65 Ethiopians in an attack on an oilfield (see Reuters story) – and urging the fighters to keep on killing.
OpenNet told Reuters that it had gathered technical proof that Ethiopian authorities were filtering out the IP addresses of political websites – and had blocked Blogger's entire Blogspot domain, home to millions of blogs across the world.
A spokesman for Ethiopia's Ministry of Information dismissed the claim as a “complete fabrication”. But Rob Faris, US-based research director for OpenNet, said the evidence of the blockage was “overwhelming”.
According to a longer version of the Reuters article posted in OpenNet says Ethiopian blogs really blocked on MeskelSquare:
“We are very interested in Ethiopia because it is a very recent entry into this field. Its internet penetration is very low but it is still going to the trouble of blocking the internet. That shows the lengths that the regime is willing to go to,” said Faris…
Ethiopian bloggers have started displaying ‘Blocked in Ethiopia’ badges on their websites and swapping technical tips on how to get round the filters. Other sites currently inaccessible in Ethiopia include the home page for the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy and 39 out of the 61 Ethiopian weblogs tracked by GlobalVoices, a website that reports on weblogs outside the West part-funded by Reuters…
OpenNet said it found evidence of the blockage by recruiting volunteers who ran programs on their computers inside Ethiopia scanning the network run by the state monopoly provider Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation. The results were then emailed back to OpenNet for analysis.
The scans followed the individual units or “packets” of digital data that get sent out whenever an internet user types a web address into a browser's address box. “We found that the packets were dropped at the same place…Any packet associated with a particular IP address was dropped. You get a ‘time out’ message when you try to access the site. Your request never leaves the country…It is the simplest and bluntest way of blocking,” said Mr Faris.
The Other Side responded with two defiant posts Unless it is just a temporary glitch, it seems that… and Ethiopia Tops CPJ’s Dishonor Roll saying:
For the record—I don’t take kindly to being silenced. My days of sporadic blogging have come to an end and I will be back in full force. Bring it on!
The government should and will know (after this post) that it can't block us from writing, whatever technology it uses.
But there was also disquiet over an article published by Ethiopian Review, a hugely-popular anti-government website that regularly comments on breaking news. The article in question commented on news of an attack by the separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) on a Chinese-managed oil field in Ethiopia's remote Somali region in which nine Chinese and 65 Ethiopian workers were killed. Ethiopian Review commented:
[It's unfortunate that the Chinese workers lost their lives in the crossfire. Their government failed them by not heeding ONLF's warnings. Over all, the brave ONLF fighters should be congratulated for a job well done. ONLF and OLF might also want to consider carrying out similar operations on Al Amoudi's gold mines that are cash cows for the Woyanne terrorist regime. Need a reminder? Do it for Messeret Tadesse who was shot by Woyanne soldiers in the back. Do it for Shibire Desalegn who was gunned down by Woyanne gunmen. Do it for the countless other civilians who were brutally tortured and murdered by Woyanne thugs.]
The comment sparked immediate outrage from bloggers and commenters alike.
Commenter tk responded to the original post about the blockages on MeskelSquare by asking whether it was so wrong to use technology to stop the spreading of such views:
none of us don't approve of any censorship, but for a diverse and politically fragile country like ethiopia, do you support such devilish messages from websites and blogs to be heard by the innocent ethiopians citizens in africa????
we need your public answer to this important question.
you keep saying, the blocked sites are those critical of government. is asking for more bombings and more massacres being “critical”????
Blocked blogger 4kilo laid into the Ethiopian Review post in Going against the country or Opposing a government?:
trying to oppose or criticize or condemn a brutal regime is one thing but going against the very country that we love and trying to protect is totally different thing.
Filweha Pundit expressed his own disgust at the Ethiopian Review entry in Misguided opposition – ER goes Mad!:
There are a number of opposition websites and blogs struggling for a political change in Ethiopia – so that the law prevails and democracy functions in a meaningful way in Ethiopia – and that is a healthy thing. But asking for violence and bloodshed in the country (while you are sitting in Virginia or anywhere else) and telling insurgents to come and attack the nation, justifying killings of foreigners, professionals and citizens who have done nothing but do their jobs, is I think a misguided and blind opposition.