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Ethiopia outlaws popular Internet phone-calling servic

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from GIN

In a step backward for free speech, the Ethiopian government has passed new legislation that criminalizes the use of Internet-based voice communications such as Skype and other forms of Internet phone calling.

The crackdown extends to the print press. According to the watchdog Reporters Without Borders, the state printer, Berhanena Selam, which has a near monopoly on newspaper and magazine printing in Ethiopia, is trying to impose political censorship on media content before publication.

In a proposed “standard contract for printing” recently circulated by state printers, they assume the right to vet and reject articles prior to printing.

“This contract could drag Ethiopia back more than two decades as regards media freedom, to the time of Mengistu’s brutal dictatorship in pre 1991 Ethiopia,” Reporters Without Borders wrote on their Web site. “Allowing printers to control editorial content is tantamount to (giving) them court powers.”

The government defends such legislation as a timely and appropriate response to the ever increasing security threats globally and in Ethiopia. But observers say the law is aimed at further limiting freedom of expression and the flow of information in the nation of 85 million people.

Anyone involved in “illegal” phone-calling services will be prosecuted and could be jailed for up to 15 years or fined heavily, if found guilty.

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