June 17, 2012 (PARIS) – Ethiopia has banned Skype and other use of Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) services that offer audio and video related communications.
The new law was passed late last month and breaking the law is punishable by 15 years in prison.
According to Reporters Without Borders, the Horn of Africa country endorsed the law national security reasons.
Internet-based phone calls have been a popular means of communication for government opponents and their supporters abroad. Addis Ababa’s actions are interpreted to be a attempt to cut off these lines of communication with Ethiopians abroad, from which the opposition secure most of their funding.
However, it is also believed that the new law is intended to protect the state’s monopoly over telephone communications.
People in Ethiopia prefer to use internet based phone calls than telephone calls because they are far cheaper.
The law is also said to allow the Ministry of Communications and Information to ban the import of communications equipment.
Reporters Without Borders criticised Ethiopia’s crackdown on Internet users and accused the East African country of trying to "attack every means of information exchange."
Ambroise Pierre from the Reporters Without Borders Africa service told the BBC: "There’s already a very strict control over written press, and last year several journalists were arrested, and now the government is tackling communications over the Internet”.
Local journalists have accused the Ethiopian government of trying to take control of Internet-based telecom services by intensifying a crack down on Internet cafés during the past few weeks.
Last week, Reporters Without Borders accused Ethiopia of further intensifying press and internet censorship by what the group alleged was using a sophisticated technology, the Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) - an advanced network filtering used to selective blocking websites.
It also accused the country’s state owned printing presses of trying to impose political censorship on media content prior to publication.
A number of international press freedom groups have accused Ethiopia of press censorship and endangering safety of journalists using controversial laws.
According to 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.