Ethiopia Denies Banning Skype and Other Internet Communication Services

Addis Ababa — The Ethiopian government has dismissed allegations that it has banned Skype and other use of Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) services that offer audio and video related communications over the internet. Reporters Without Borders last week alleged that Ethiopia has endorsed a new law that bans the internet based services. The group accused the East African country of trying to "attack every means of information exchange" and criticised it of a new crackdown on Internet users. However, Ethiopia government spokesperson, Shimeles Kemal, said the draft proclamation presented to the parliament last week does not restrict users access to Skype or IP-related internet activities. According to Kemal the draft law intends to control the growing number of telecom related offences. "The draft law aims to restrict internet telephone activities, not between telecom activities from computer to computer, but it aims to restrict unlicensed service providers who use internet to provide telephone services from internet to telephone lines. The aim of the regulation is not aimed at restricting IP and cyber activities. Nor did it intend to restrict computer to computer services," said Kemal. The state owned Telcome has been accusing a number of internet service providers of permitting unlawful international calls in order to gain illegal revenue. Kemal said the primary purpose of the proclamation is to tackle illegal activities such as generating income by bypassing the domestic telecom service which, according to him, is causing substantial financial damage to the national service. Kemal said Ethiopia has lost more than US$50 million this year due to illegal internet-based activities by independent telephone operators. The Government Communication Affairs Office (GCAO) in a statement stressed that the draft law does not target personal users of the service, as was reported by Medias. "There is no prohibition of people calling abroad on Skype from internet cafes or elsewhere," said Kemal. Addis Ababa has long been under fire froma number of international press freedom groups of press censorship and endangering safety of journalists using controversial laws. According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) research, Ethiopia drove more journalists into exile than any other country, over the past decade. The country is also Africa's foremost jailer of journalists, after neighbouring Eritrea. In the RSF 2011-2012 press freedom index Ethiopia was 127 out of 179. Freedom House's 2011 report into internet freedom said "In Ethiopia and Cuba, for example, state-run telecommunications companies hold a monopoly on internet service, giving them unchecked control over users' ability to communicate with one another and the outside world". Freedom House also listed Ethiopia amongst the ten countries with greatest declines in a variety of freedoms during the 2010-2011 period.
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