Truth Frequency Radio
Apr 04, 2014

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There’s a knock at your door. You open it, only to find several grave-looking police officers accusing you of a crime you didn’t commit. They pull out records of your most recent phone calls and tie you to your alleged co-conspirator, and now you’re screwed. This is Ethiopia.

According to a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, Ethiopian surveillance of phones and emails is rampant. Eskinder Nega, a journalist and dissident blogger, reports being shown emails, text messages, and phone recordings when approached by Ethiopian police who were investigating him. Nega’s newspaper, Ethiopis, was shut down for being critical of the Ethiopian government’s abuses in freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Nega was sentenced to 18 years in prison for allegedly conspiring against the government in July of 2012.

“Ethiopia certainly doesn’t have the resources or capacity to engage in surveillance on the scale of the NSA—very few governments do,” Cynthia Wong, a Senior Researcher at HRW, told me. “The biggest difference, however, is that Ethiopia is using surveillance to silence dissent and opposition parties. While we don’t know the full extent of who the NSA is monitoring, there is no evidence yet that suggests that the NSA is broadly targeting critics or political opposition groups, as we have found in Ethiopia.”

Ethiopia, despite a dreadful history of human rights abuses, is a key African ally of the United States. But even American citizens with relations to Ethiopia are not safe from the surveillance program. The report highlights a US citizen by the name of “Kidane,” who runs technical support for Ethiopian diaspora groups, who found that his computer had been infected with spyware that was recording his Skype calls, emails, and web searches.

Wong claims the surveillance is used during abusive investigations and that police and the government have “unfettered access to call records and intercepted phone calls.” She says even the citizen’s protections that exist on paper are systematically ignored, and that one of the justifications the Ethiopian government gives for operating at such a level is the ongoing war on terror.

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