“The Internet FireObelisk of Ethiopia”: Ethiopian Blogs and Websites under a huge banning spree


By T, Staffer of De Birhan Media

28 April 2012

The blockage/jamming of radio and Television media has been highly practised until the end of the cold war and fall of the German Wall by states and agencies. While most of the world has now respected freedom of expression, adopted democracy and openness, few despotic and tyrannous countries have escalated their censorship on freedom of expression beyond their borders. De Birhan staff member, T offers a short analysis as follows.


In the past couple of weeks, a bunch of Ethiopian focused Diaspora media have been blocked such as Abe Tokichaw’s wordpress and this one, De Birhan. In its blocking and banning spree of media outlets that it considers critical, the regime had banned over two dozens of websites, blogs and radio and television stations since the 2005 election.

Some cases in which the government blocked infiltrated or interrupted Diaspora based Ethiopian media. According to a CPJ, May 24, 2006 report the blocking of Blogs and Websites started then These included Ethio-Zagol’s own Web site, www.seminawork.blogspot.com, Andrew Heavens, Meskel Square, ethiopundit.blogspot.com,ethiopianpolitics.blogspot.com; the Web site of the rebel Oromo Liberation Front; and several antigovernment sites run by the Ethiopian Diaspora including the well-known Ethiopian Review. Jamming of foreign-based broadcasting amounts to a violation of Article 35 of the International Telecommunications Convention (ITC), which prevents radio jamming even when a nation claims it has a right to protect its sovereignty.

Since 2010, the regime began to intensively block almost all news media and websites of rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Committee to Protect Journalists. It went as far as an attempt of chastising the administrations of Voice of America and Dutch Velle Amharic services.

Since its launch in April 2010, The Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) has faced intense and persistent signal interference that has disrupted its transmissions over seven times in its short span of life. Its radio waves and other similar Party radios have been all blocked.

Ogaden Online reported on 03 March 2012 that the London based “independently functioning” Ogaden focused media, Universal TV (1st private satellite Somali TV) had been pressurised, co-opted and infiltrated by the Ethiopian regime. Reportedly, Universal Tv was made to recruit a Somali speaking journalist from Ethiopia who promoted the Ethiopian regime’s propaganda and the media was granted a hundred thousand USD ($100,000) fee for every quarter of the year as they are to broadcast government-edited video clips as news coverage or special program at least per week.

“The IlaysTV of  SomaliChannel TV who were popular among the Somali community were approached by the Ethiopian regime to be paid hundreds of thousands and as the TV refused the soliciting the Ethiopian regime Communications Ministers went to the Far East country that hosted the channel and pressurised to finally get it off the air. As the Meles regime pressurised neighbouring countires like Djbouti, Somaliland and Puntland not to host the Channle, Ilays Tv went to Eritrea’s Eri Tv. The Ethiopian regime then fully attacked Eritrean satellite base of Arabsat from Arab Satellite.

“In parallel with those jamming practices, Addis Ababa regime had been maintaining its close watching and intimidation policies towards any other media outlet which covers Ogaden stories or events.” Ogaden Online reports.

The Hargaisa-based Horn cable TV that reported on Oganden issues as  the Somaliland’s president, Ahmed Silanyo had told while in parliament just ahead of raiding the station “Horn Cable TV had stepped beyond the border (redline)”. Ogaal newspaper that reported that ONLF forces are crossing to Ethiopia was later arrested due to pressure from Ethiopia. A Committee to Protect Journalist’s report on February 29, 2012, another reporter from Subulahanews.com was detained and tortured in the north-western town – Borama for writing similar article to that of Ogaal newspaper. De Birhan Media wants to remind other fellow media to intensively report on human rights abuses and incidents in Ogaden.


The following information is retrieved from the Website of Article 19. Around the hightimes of the Arab Spirng last year, 15 members of the Bahraini opposition, after being repeatedly been denied permission to broadcast out of Bahrain, and so relocated to London, from where the channel continues to operate, launched LuaLua TV. The Television station London-based Bahraini current affairs station had its satellite signal jammed only four hours after the channel was launched on 17 July 2011.

“Jamming and blocking is a practice thought to be confined to the cold war having disappeared with the fall of the Berlin Wall. LuaLua TV is in clear violation of international human rights law regarding freedom of expression and interferes with both the rights of individuals and broadcasters to receive and impart information, as provided by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)” Says Article 19.  The station broadcasts in Arabic and is aimed at members of the opposition inside Bahrain, beaming via the satellite service Hotbird. The satellite jamming of LuaLua TV is taking place despite the channel changing its frequency regularly. To circumvent the channel’s satellite jamming, LuaLua TV started a partnership with the online streaming service, Livestation, on 12 August 2011. However, after only two weeks, LuaLua TV received reports that the website that carries their live stream was also being blocked within Bahrain.

The incidents on LuaLua Tv bear huge similarity with ESAT TV and Radio. Although, ESAT is not solely established by opposition members and merely focused on opposition groups in Ethiopia, it has gone through much censorship that the Bahraini station has gone through. Another Washington based entertainment and social issues TV Station, EBS followed the footsteps of ESAT. The Ethiopian regime has not blocked, banned or jammed the channel. In 1950, the General Assembly Resolution 424 V) Freedom of Information: Interference  with Radio Signals, stated that deliberate interference by duly authorised radio operating agencies of radio signals originating beyond their territory constitutes a violation of the accepted principle of freedom of information. The Resolution also condemned the measure, such as radio jamming, as “a denial of the right of all persons to be fully informed concerning news, opinions and ideas regardless of frontiers”.

Great Firewall of China

China has intensified online censorship by closing 16 websites, taking the toughest steps yet against major microblogs and detaining six people for spreading rumours of a coup amid Beijing’s most serious political crisis for years.” The Guardian reported on Sunday 1 April 2012.

China is the leading country in Internet media censorship; therefore the system has won the label “Great Firewall of China”. The system of The Great Firewall of China is a massive and complicated system that blocks all types of content that the Chinese government deems improper. It features firewalls and proxy servers at the Internet gateways, engages in selective DNS poisoning when particular sites are requested, and leverages various other methods to censor the Internet, including Connection resets, DNS filtering and redirection, IP blocking, Packet filtering, and URL filtering, according to zdnet.com.  At times this huge system has gone to the level of blocking all foreign sites and reopening them again. “China’s draconian internet censorship system – known as ‘the Great Firewall of China’ – intensified briefly today, blocking ALL foreign websites.”  Dailymail.com reported on 12 April 2012. According to a 2006 Harvard study, at least 18,000 websites are blocked from within mainland China.[

According to the internet watchdog, GreatFireWallofChina.Org, “It is estimated that some 30,000 Chinese civil servants are monitoring Internet traffic and blocking content that is deemed undesirable. Typing in sensitive keywords such as ‘democracy’, ‘Falun Gong’ or ‘porno’ in a search engine results in an error message. Websites of a sensitive nature are being blocked. Internet service providers also (self) censor, as do individuals: many people do not express their real thoughts because they know these will be censored anyway. ”

Similarly, the watchdog says due to the growth of blogs and regime’s non anonymity regulations; young Chinese created an anonymous blog “According to state media, by the end of 2006 there were 20.8 million bloggers in China. Blogging, which implies venting your own opinions, has become immensely popular in China. In order to control the phenomenon the government wants blog users to register under their real name. A resourceful Chinese individual created this loophole: www.adoptablog.org. Adopt a Chinese blog, and help keep these bloggers online – anonymously.”

Such a strategy is one aspect that IT expert Ethiopians should consider in unblocking and increasing reachablity of the Ethiopian mass.

How you can test if your website or blog is blocked in China?

A watchdog and keep track of which and how many  or how many times sites are censored, http://www.greatfirewallofchina.org/index.php, enables website and blog owners to test if their  url addresses are blocked or censored in China.  Most Ethiopian websites are blocked or censored by Chinese experts and technology sometimes from China and mostly from Addis Abeba.  I have just made a trail test of a couple of Ethiopian and one International website hosted outside Ethiopia: Ethiomedia (http://www.ethiomedia.com/), De Birhan (http://www.debirhan.com/) and Amnesty International (http://www.amnesty.org/). The following was the result found: No servers were able to reach your site. This means that your site is most likely NOT accessible from within mainland China.

I have also made an attempt of testing if other foreign based critical Ethiopian websites and blogs were accessible in China and most were while the some other were inaccessible. This is an interesting discovery and calls for more research and study into why critical Ethiopian websites and blogs have been in accessible in China: because the blocking was done from main land China, with Chinese technology or because Ethiopian IT security recruits also filtered our sites from Chinese audience ?

You can also insert your url (web addresses) into the search space here (https://www.comparitech.com/privacy-security-tools/blockedinchina/) and test if your site is also blocked in China.

So far no Ethiopian authority or institution came out and publicly stated the reasons why the sites and channels and radio and Televise waves were blocked or jammed. The Ethiopian regime should be perused by the international community and freedom of speech upholding organisations to explain their justifications for the blockages.

According to Article 19, international human rights standards allow, under Article 19(3), for narrowly defined restrictions to freedom of expression: first, the interference must be in accordance with a law; second, the legally sanctioned restriction must protect or promote an aim deemed legitimate in international law; and third, the restriction must be necessary for the protection or promotion of the legitimate aim. This is known as the three-part test.

For jamming to be legitimate it should therefore be:

1.      Prescribed by law. The law should specify who, how and in what cases can jam frequencies. The law should include safeguards against abuse of power. For example, independent courts or bodies should authorise the jamming and supervise how it is performed

2.      Pursue legitimate purposes; for example, national security, protection of public order, etc

3.      Be strictly necessary to achieve these purposes. The authorities should provide relevant and sufficient reasons demonstrating that without jamming it will not be possible to protect national security or public order. The context is important to justify jamming. Therefore it is difficult to justify jamming per se.

However, none of the above conditions have been explained or the court was involved in the practice of jamming. The Ethio-Chinese jammers and banners don’t take a due consideration of the three-part test nor do they care to explain or validate why they have banned Ethiopian focused critical news media.

I advise readers in Ethiopia to use/download Tor website to access blocked sites in conjunction with Privoxy servers. We are also conducting studies on how we can circumvent the blockage of Ethiopian media/sites in Ethiopia- we will notify the findings soon.

After blocking, jamming, interfering and banning foreign based Ethiopian media, Ethiopian regime’s censorship has now moved on the local press. The sole state owned printing press in Ethiopia, Berhan ena Selam, has informed publishers in Ethiopia that it would introduce a new agreement that may censor printing of “contents’’ deemed to be “unprintable” by the Printing press.

We can then call the Ethiopian empire of blocking sites and media taking the phrase from the ChineseGreat Firewall of China”, The Internet FireObelisk of Ethiopia.

Here is a greatly useful tool, guide to protect yourself and serf better vpnmentor.com.

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