It’s been an open question for a while: when will repressive African leaders start taking the Internet seriously enough that they’ll start locking up cyber-dissidents?
One answer: January 27, 2006.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that Ethiopian authorities have arrested Frezer Negash, a correspondent for Ethiopian Review, a website fiercely critical of the Zenawi government. Negash is being held without charge. There are at least 16 journalists in custody in Ethiopia – several have been charged with “non-journalistic crimes” – not with libel, but with treason, “genocide” or crimes against national security.
Negash is also an opposition politician who ran as an independent candidate in the May 2005 elections. She joins several dozen opposition leaders who the Zenawi government has seen fit to arrest and detain.
Ethiopundit, who tipped me off on this story, weighs in on a subject I’ve been interested in: what does Bono think of Zenawi now that he’s shown his authoritarian colors. Quoting an article in Der Spiegel (republished on Ethiomedia), it sounds like Bono understands that the Zenawi he’s wanted to support with debt relief is not the guy arresting dissenters: “I just want to say that he is a person who deeply cares about the poor in Ethiopia and has done some great things. But he’s bipolar. On the other side we see that he’s still a military man, who will not give up power, who is closing down civil society and is putting the opposition in prison, behind bars. This is shocking and apalling.”
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Living in D.C., I hear a lot of taxi drivers’ discussion of Ethiopian politics. They are incensed. I also work with some First-Amendment lawyers, and the issue of internet censorship–and when a regime chooses to notice internet dissidence–is a fascinating one. The internet, as we know, is extremely difficult to legislate, filter and monitor, so it seems to signal a change of sorts when the internet falls under state attention regarding journalists’ arrests. In many countries, old media laws don’t even have provisions classifying the internet as a media, so it makes it harder, although you can always use “state secret” (or ideological, like “genocide”) laws.
Thanks for pointing this out.