In just the past few months, positive reforms have swept through Ethiopia. One of the notable changes has been the rapid expansion of internet freedom and digital rights in the country. Over the past decade, the Ethiopian government has relentlessly blocked news websites, blogs, TV stations, jammed radio stations, and arrested those with dissenting voices. Now Ethiopia has dropped the charges against many bloggers, journalists, and opposition groups, freed thousands of prisoners, and most recently unblocked more than 250 websites.
Access Now and the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) published a report that verifies the extent of the unblocking of these websites. As we were unable to acquire the list of sites the government unblocked, we started off by looking at the websites that were known to be blocked previously.
Our findings suggest that almost all of the websites we previously recorded as blocked are accessible, with a few notable exceptions. For instance, all media outlets have been unblocked except the HTTP version of oromiamedia.org. Most social networking sites are accessible over wifi and mobile data except Instagram. Instagram is accessible over wifi, but locked on mobile data.
All previously tested human rights, LGBTQI, political opposition, and armed group websites have been unblocked with the exception of the Ginbot 7 armed group. While the Tor Project site remains blocked in Ethiopia, psiphon.ca and ultrasurg.us have recently been unblocked.
These positive efforts in Ethiopia should be followed by concrete steps to lift the block from all remaining websites and rectify the laws that lead to the prosecution of those with dissenting voices. As we write in our report:
“We quite rarely hear of governments unblocking hundreds of websites in one go. This is also an important event given Ethiopia’s political climate and the conditions that led to pervasive levels of internet censorship.
By lifting the lid on said 264 websites, the Ethiopian government may be closing a decade-long sustained internet censorship. While this is a positive move, there is need for continuous vigilance on monitoring information controls in Ethiopia, as such controls may potentially mutate from overt forms, like website blocking and internet shutdowns, to more covert controls, like targeted surveillance and social media manipulation.”
For more information, read the full report.