enabling tomorrow's human rights leaders, today
The following post is written by William Luk. William is a Junior from Tufts University majoring in International Relations. He is a 2012 Oslo Scholar and will be interning with Abebe Gellaw this summer.
To understand the dearth of human rights in Ethiopia is to imagine a society wherein everything we take for granted in most countries—the rule of law, responsible governance and the freedoms of speech, press and assembly, for example—is not only nonexistent, but also forcefully repressed.
Not only are there scanty media platforms, but the few that exist are so strictly regulated by the government that information is either far from the truth or completely fictional. In a country of over 82 million people, there is one national radio station, one Internet service provider, one national TV station, and two national daily newspapers, all owned and heavily monitored by the Ethiopian government. While there are a few regional radio and TV stations, they are also all strictly controlled. Because of high poverty levels, low literacy rates and poor distribution, print media serves only a small portion of the population. Journalists work in a constant state of fear, as any articles criticizing the Government result in arbitrary arrest, detention and punishment.
Worse yet, these arrests are not exactly “arbitrary,” as the Government is able to justify its draconian control over the media through the law. The provisions of the Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, introduced in 2009, define terrorist activities so broadly that they can be used to criminalize freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The use of counter-terrorism as a pretext to silence journalists and groups has increased in recent years, with over 112 known cases of journalists, including foreign journalists, and politicians arrested in 2011 alone.
When provisions of basic human rights are not only lacking from the Government, but actually actively proscribed, what kind of lives do and can Ethiopians live?
This is why the work of Abebe Gellaw, other exiled journalists and the Ethopian diaspora at large, is so important to the advocating of human rights and dissemination of information. Organizations such as Addis Voice, the Ethiopian Satellite Television, Nazret and the Zethiopia Newspaper aimed to help those in Ethiopia, and those around the world, gain access to accurate and unfettered information about Ethiopia, and realize the repression they are subject to.
The battle against media censorship in Ethiopia is one that is ongoing and full of obstacles. While there are tools to bypass censorship, such as the Addis Voice toolbar, government regulatory mechanisms evolve adaptively like bacteria. An even bigger problem, in addition to the low literacy rates, is that only 0.4% of Ethiopia’s population have regular access to the Internet—one of the lowest in the world. News reporting via the Internet is a viable option, but it currently does not reach a big enough audience to cause a significant impact. But that is no cause for pessimism; their work may be a drop in the ocean, making seemingly no difference to the sea level, but at least it creates a ripple.
Click here to watch a video of Abebe Gellaw talking about Internet Censorship in Ethopia.