Official: ‘Skype and similar activities are not banned in Ethiopia’

"Skype and similar activities are not banned in Ethiopia. There is no law that prohibits or restricts their utilization here in Ethiopia. Nor does the [draft] law aim to prevent IP-relatedethio telecom internet activities, that is cyber activities like social media, Twitter, etc.”, said a senior Ethiopian official in a phone interview.

The remark was made in reference to the draft Telecom Fraud Offences proclamation, which was tabled in the parliament, on May 24, for first reading and referred to the relevant Standing Committee, for review.

The draft legislation was reported as if enacted by various news outlets. A news on Al Jazeera stream, on June 14, claimed:

A new law in Ethiopia has criminalized the use of VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services such as Skype. Users could face up to 15 years of jail time.The law was passed May 24th, but the story wasn’t picked up by international media until recently.”

This two-sentences-long news was the main, if not the sole, basis of the VOIP ban news that flooded the world wide web in a manner comparable to famine and war in the past week. The news created a major mayhem to the extent that even some Ministers thought such a law was enacted, while few international NGOs in Addis Ababa sought advice from legal advice on the matter.

However, this blog (Danielberhane’s Blog) made a first hand check and clarified the matter, despite the resentment that challenging a trending bad news (by major outlets) would bring and the hurdles of getting accurate info in Ethiopia. A post on June 17 in this blog stated, providing the full text of the draft law, that:

“[the] Proclamation on Telecom Fraud Offences’ is only a draft and only passed the first reading stage of the legislative process to date…..

“I tell you, with my lawyer hat, that these two articles concern a business entity providing telephone call (to a landline or mobile phone) and fax services using the internet. And, also, individuals using that business service….

“At any rate, I say: A law banning the personal use of Skype would be as frivolous as a jaywalking law. So, Skype me? Indeed!”

State Minister of Government Communication Affairs, Shimeles Kemal, confirmed that, in a phone interview, saying:

"Skype and similar activities are not banned in Ethiopia. There is no law that prohibits or restricts their utilization here in Ethiopia. Nor does the law aim to prevent IP-related internet activities, that is cyber activities like social media, Twitter, etc.”.

Minister Shimeles Kemal’s said, on whether the draft law, or the government for that matter, bans the use of VOIP services:

"The draft legislation is primarily aimed at regulating telecoms. It’s telecoms services.

"It in no way for instance, contrary to what different claims, it is not aimed to clamp down nor restrict the use of Skype, or Google Talk or any other similar activities."

"Skype and similar activities are not banned in Ethiopia. There is no law that prohibits or restricts their utilization here in Ethiopia. Nor does the [draft] law aim to prevent IP-related internet activities, that is cyber activities like social media, Twitter, etc.

"The [draft] law aims to restrict internet telephone activities, not between telecom activities from computer to computer, but it aims to restrict unlicensed service providers who use internet to provide telephone services from internet to telephone lines.

The aim of the regulation is not aimed at restricting IP and cyber activities. Nor did it intend to restrict computer to computer services."

"The draft law intends to prevent telecom fraud activities as provided by IP use regulations and treaties. For instance call back. Fraudulent call back services that are aimed at bypassing national services are prohibited here. People who wish to generate income through bypassing telecom server will be held accountable through the use of software and hardware that are employed to circumvent the Ip protocol and other restrictions without getting permission will be held accountable according to the new law."

"We are restricting independent telephone operators, there are several who have caused a loss of more than 50 million USD this year alone."

"What the law aims at prohibiting is the fraudulently using telecom servers of bypassing it for purposes of generating income or defrauding income which should Ethio Telecom should earn."

"There is no prohibition" of people calling abroad on Skype from internet cafes.

His position was less clear on whether private Skype-to-telephone calls are illegal, however.

Regarding the 2002 Telecommunications proclamation that prohibits ‘the use or provision of voice communication or fax services through the internet’ (though there has been no reports of prosecutions based on that legislation to date), the Minister remarked:

“….if it is literally construed might include Skype or Google Talk, but the aim was not to prevent these new technologies. The regulatory bodies turn their back to such activities. It should be construed that the law in Ethiopia currently is not prohibiting any VoIP activities.”

I shall hastily add however, these points should be indicated as clearly as possible in the draft law, say, with the inclusion of the word ‘commercial use’ – though I believ that is already implied.

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Note: A thorough review of the draft legislation will be provided in this blog in the coming days.

Previous posts: Skype me? Indeed! | Text of Ethiopia’s draft Telecom Law

Check the Ethio Telecom archive or the Human Rights archive for related posts.

Daniel Berhane

Daniel Berhane

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