Welcome to the first African Internet Policy and Media Law Roundup compiled by Ephraim Percy Kenyanito. This edition of the roundup explores notable events affecting, or affected by, African internet policies from January through April 2014.
Zambia: On January 1, 2014, Miles Sampa, Zambia’s Junior Minister of Commerce, Trade, and Industry, declared war on the Zambian Watchdog, an independent media website which published photos that point to Sampa’s alleged extramarital affair. The Minister then decided to offer $2000 USD to anyone who could reveal the identity of the people behind the website.
Somalia: The extremist Somali militia Al-Shabab issued an ultimatum to Somalia’s internet service providers on January 8, 2014. On January 11, 2014, the Somali Minister of Interior and National Security downplayed the threats and urged the upholding of the right to free expression enshrined in the country’s constitution.
Somalia: On January 12, 2014, telcos operating in Al-Shabab controlled areas caved in to pressure from Al-Shabab, an extremist militia group, and shut down internet access. It is speculated that Al-Shabab was pressuring the telcos to shut down the internet in order to prevent the government from tracking down to extremist group.
Sudan: On January 14, 2014, Tech President, released a report which showed that US Sanctions against Sudan are preventing Sudanese citizens, including civil society organizations, from protecting themselves against international and national cyber threats.
Zambia: On January 17, 2014, operators of the independent news site the Zambian Watchdog came under policy scrutiny after an online journalist on the site published a draft of the new Zambian constitution that politicians had drafted but did not want released to the general public.
Morocco: On January 19, 2014, it was made public that the Moroccan government was contemplating the enactment of the Code Numérique, a new law that would allow Moroccan authorities to block websites deemed a threat “public order, national security, necessities of public service, or public policy.” The new law would also punish online statements considered to be in violation of those rules. Online freedoms activists responded by developing a crowdsourced document that provided suggestions on some of the repressive sections of the law.
Kenya: On January 21, 2014, Kenyan bloggers warned of the negative impacts and potential chilling effect of new media laws in Kenya. According to bloggers, the new laws left them open to prosecution due to some of its vague provisions. More information on these laws can be found here.
Egypt: On January 31, 2014, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior submitted a new law which criminalises the use of online platforms in the name of curbing terrorism. Such platforms that instigate terrorism could potentially be censored.
Uganda: On February 6, 2014, Ugandan lawmakers enacted the Anti Pornography Act 2014.Under, Section 17 (1) of the act, internet service providers (ISPs) whose systems are used to upload or download pornography can be imprisoned for five years and fined up to $4,000 USD. The law further requires all ISPs to install software that implements Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), a form of filtering software that can identify who has been accessing what on the internet.
Ethiopia: On February 12, 2014, University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab revealed that that Ethiopian government was using Hacking Team’s RCS spyware to surveil Ethiopian journalists abroad working at Ethiopian Satellite Television Service, a US-based news outlet that is frequently critical of the Ethiopian government.
Sudan: On February 17, 2014, Sudan Change Now, on its Facebook page, called for the civil society community in Sudan to hold a peaceful sit-in on February 18, 2014, in front of the government-run Human Rights Commission (HRC), to demand the immediate release of Tajeldin Arja. Tajeldin Arja is a Sudanese blogger and activist who has been in detention since his arrest on December 24, 2013 at a joint press conference of the Sudanese and Chadian presidents in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. Arja criticized the Sudanese and Chadian presidents for their alleged complicity in Darfur crimes.
Egypt: On February 18, 2014, an Egyptian youth group launch an “internet revolution” to protest what they consider a slow and overpriced internet service.
South Africa: On March 16, 2014, the South African communications regulator ICASA raised the idea of introducing “net neutrality” regulations that would stop operators from discriminating against traffic carried across their networks.
Gambia: On March 21, 2014, Gambia was without internet access for 48 hours. Economist Sidi Sanneh, who served as the country’s foreign minister in the mid-2000s, said the blackout resulted from government efforts to block chat and call apps including Viber and other VoIP internet-based messaging and phone services. Gambia’s Ministry of Information Technology denied blocking access to Viber, blaming the problem instead on poor network connectivity.
Ethiopia: On March 25, 2014, Human Rights Watch released “They Know Everything We Do: Telecom and Internet Surveillance in Ethiopia,” a 137-page report detailing government acquisition of surveillance tools from foreign companies, cooperation with mobile service providers, and sufficient testimony from journalists, activists, and others who have been targeted by surveillance practices.
Mozambique: On April 3, 2014, that Mozambican lawmakers began considering a new law that would criminalize text messages, emails, and other online communications deemed “insulting” or “threatening to the security of the state.”
On April 3rd, Mozambique also joined The Alliance for Affordable Internet (AA4I), a global coalition working to make broadband affordable. Mozambique is the first Southern African Development Community (SADC) country and the third developing country (including Nigeria and Ghana) to join A4AI. A4AI’s coalition is made up of more than 50 private sector, public sector, and civil society organizations, working to reach the UN Broadband Commission Broadband target of entry-level broadband services priced at less than 5% of average monthly income.
Zambia: On April 6, 2014, Zambian Information Permanent Secretary Bert Musahala disclosed that the media policy the government is currently drafting will address internet abuse and cybercrime. To the disappointment of some activists, the law is also intended to deal with prevention of gossip within online discussion platforms.
Ethiopia: On April 25, 2014, Ethiopian government officials are reported to have arrested at least six bloggers and one journalist. The bloggers and journalists are part of a movement known as Zone9 which, though inactive for the past seven months, has been operating since 2012. Members of the movement had been writing critical articles about the regime and managed to conduct online campaigns,which raised public awareness about the repression in the country. The bloggers and journalist recently resumed their online activism on April 23, 2014.