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Press Group Says Ethiopia Censors Internet


An international press-freedom organization accuses the Ethiopian government of blocking personal Internet Web sites known as blogs that are critical of the government, a charge the authorities deny.

Paris-based Reporters Without Borders says at least 10 opposition blogs are among thousands of sites that Ethiopians have not been able to access in Ethiopia since May 17.

The head of the organization's internet freedom section, Julien Pain, says he suspects that the Ethiopian government has blocked the Internet sites.

"We found out that many opposition Web sites and web blogs have been blocked in Ethiopia," Pain says. "We cannot prove that it is because of government's decision, but we believe it is very likely because they were accessible three weeks ago and all of a sudden they just disappeared from the internet. The Web sites are not shut down. They are blocked, and obviously filtered in Ethiopia and still accessible in the rest of the world."

Pain says the Web sites' blocking will increase political tensions in the country, and that that he thinks many Ethiopians will suffer because of the blockages.

"We all know that the private media are under pressure by the government, and that the state media are totally controlled by the authorities, so the internet was the only way for the opposition and for independent journalists to express themselves," Pain says. "The debates on the internet were very, very important for Ethiopian politics."

Ethiopian authorities say such censorship is against government policy.

Information minister Berhan Hailu explains.

"I do not know which Web sites are blocked, but the government has no intention to do that," Berhan says. "We know that there are illegal and unethical media here in Ethiopia, but the government has no intention to do such a reaction."

Berhan rejects the view that media in Ethiopia are not free, saying that the media are able to be critical of the government.

"There are many media here critical about the government," Berhan says. "So we believe that the freedom of the information and relevant things are going well in Ethiopia. Those (journalists) who are critical are still working in Ethiopia."

More than 100 journalists, opposition politicians and supporters, activists and others face treason and genocide charges incurred during protests over last May's elections in Ethiopia.

They accused the ruling party of committing electoral fraud to win last year's elections.

Their imprisonment and trials have been condemned recently by U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and other international groups.

For its part, the Ethiopian government says the journalists and others in jail are guilty of fomenting violence and trying to overthrow the government.