Ethiopia recorded the biggest improvement worldwide in the 2019 Internet Freedom scores

By Kitaw Yayehyirad KITAW (Yayeh KITAW)
Founder and Director CyberEthiopia.com
PhD Fellow in Governance and Policy Analysis

Ethiopia saw an 11 point improvement in its internet freedom score recording the biggest improvement this year in Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net Index.

The April 2018 appointment of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed led to an ambitious reform agenda that loosened restrictions on the internet. Abiy’s government unblocked 260 websites, including many known to report on critical political issues.

CyberEthiopia.com was one of first blocked websites in the initial wave of censorship in 2006 and unblocked in 2018 after 12 years of restriction.

Ethiopia’s Country report in 2019 recalls that authorities also lifted a state of emergency imposed by the previous government, which eased legal restrictions on free expression, and reduced the number of people imprisoned for online activity. Although the government continued to impose network shutdowns, they were temporary and localized, unlike the nationwide shutdowns that had occurred in the past.

The report also highlights key developments from June 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019

  • Local network shutdowns were imposed in August and September 2018 (see A3). However, these disruptions were less severe than the nationwide shutdowns of the past.
  • On June 22, 2018, the government reported that it had unblocked 264 websites, including news sites known for their critical reporting (see B1).
  • Online media diversity improved as new outlets appeared and some previously blocked diaspora-based media and opposition sites, such as Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and Oromia Media Network (OMN), returned to the market (see B7).
  • In a positive step in June, Prime Minster Abiy ended a state of emergency that had been imposed in February to quell escalating antigovernment protests. The measure had included restrictions on certain online activities, banning the circulation of “any information that could cause disturbance or suspicion” (see C1).
  • The government was drafting a hate speech law during the coverage period that would reportedly penalize the publication of false information and carry a jail term and fines for individuals who disseminate hate speech (see C2).
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 2018 was the first year since 2004 in which Ethiopian authorities did not imprison a journalist (see C3). Some reporters for online outlets were briefly detained or assaulted during the coverage period, but conditions were generally less repressive than in the past (see C7).

It is to be recalled that in the 2017 report, for the third consecutive year, Ethiopia was the third world’s worst abuser of internet freedom behind China and Syria.

Read the full 2019 Freedom on the Net Report

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