B2: Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?
Internet users have reported incidents of content removals, while a February 2020 law requires social media companies to remove a comment that is considered hate speech or misinformation within 24 hours’ notice.
In March 2020, Yayesew Shimelis, a journalist who has published reporting that is favorable to the TPLF, posted a video on YouTube and Facebook with information about the government’s response to COVID-19, which the Health Ministry said was false later that month. Yayesew claimed his Facebook page was suspended without his knowledge. He has since returned to Facebook. In May, he accused INSA of controlling his Facebook page (see C8). Yayesew was detained shortly after he posted the video, before being released on bail a month later (see C3). In April 2020, prosecutors charged Yayesew under the Hate Speech and Disinformation and Prevention and Suppression Proclamation (see C2).
In February 2020, the Ethiopian government passed the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation (see C2). Under the law, social media companies are required to remove content that is reported as disinformation or hate speech within 24 hours of notice, though there are no penalties or sanctions for companies that do not comply.
Nonstate actors such as organized youth groups reportedly coerced bloggers and other users to remove objectionable content, usually by way of threats. In the past, politically unfavorable content was often targeted for removal by security officials, who personally sought out users and bloggers and instructed them to take down the material in question.
B3: Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?
There are no procedures for determining which websites are blocked or why precluding any avenues for appeal. The authorities do not publish lists of blocked websites or criteria for how blocking decisions are made, and users receive a generic error message when trying to access blocked content. The decision-making process does not appear to be controlled by a single entity, as various government bodies—including INSA, Ethio Telecom, and the Ministry of Innovation and Technology—seem to maintain their own lists, contributing to a phenomenon of inconsistent blocking.
The lack of transparency is exacerbated by the government’s typical refusal to admit its censorship efforts. Government officials have flatly denied the blocking of websites or jamming of international satellite operations while also stating that the government has a legal and moral responsibility to protect the Ethiopian public from extremist content.