18 March 2013

Ethiopia Blocks Al Jazeera News Website

Paris — The website of Qatar-based news organisation Al Jazeera has been blocked in Ethiopia, raising questions over the country's commitment to press freedom, under the new leadership of prime minister.

According to reports and the website's users in Ethiopia, the English and Arabic websites of Al Jazeera have been inaccessible during the last six months.

An investigation by Al Jazeera indicated that traffic from Ethiopia to their English-language website plummeted from 50,000 hits in July 2012 to just 114 in September.

The Arabic website also saw a drop to almost zero in September, down from 5,371 in July last year.

The sharp decline in Al Jazeera's traffic data began in early August.

A blogger, speaking on condition of anonymity, alleged that Al Jazeera was targeted by Ethiopian censors after the news website began to give wider coverage over ongoing Muslim protests against the government's alleged "interference" in the affairs of the country's Islamic communities.

According to Ethiopia's last census in 2007 around 25 million (34%) of the Christian-dominated East African nation are Muslim.

As well as the coverage of Muslim protests, Al Jazeera English also published an article on deadly ethnic clashes between two rival tribes in the country's south.

Authorities including the state-owned Ethiopian Telecommunications Cooperation have not yet provided any official explanation over the allegations.

Ethiopian officials were unavailable for comment on Monday.

The Horn of Africa nation has a growing reputation for blocking access to dissident news sites, blogs and other local and exiled news sites critical of the government.

Addis Ababa has previously blocked US-funded broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) and the German Amharic radio, accusing them of violating the ethics of journalism by broadcasting what it described as "destabilising propaganda".

The actions brought widespread condemnation from international press freedom groups.

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