EFF: Ethiopian Arrests for Internet Security Training Undermine Right to Privacy

Posted by Soledad Vega on Tue, 07/21/2015 - 10:14

Can you go to jail for learning encryption? In Ethiopia, you can. Here's why this is so problematic and so messed up: 

Article by Sarah Myers West for EFF

The simple act of taking steps to protect oneself online is enough to send a journalist to jail, according to charges issued by Ethiopian prosecutors in several cases to be heard this week. An Ethiopian court will soon hand down verdicts in a number of cases where criminal charges could be assessed for attending or applying to attend Internet security training.

Five of the Zone 9 bloggers (four of whom are in prison and one who is being tried in absentia) will face a long-awaited verdict in the case on July 29 after the court adjourned a planned hearing on July 20. Seven of the bloggers were arrested under criminal and anti-terrorism charges for acts that include participating in online security training sessions where they learned how to use encryption technologies such as Tactical Tech and Front Line Defenders’ Security in a Box guide. As evidence for their alleged crimes, prosecutors submitted widely available documents including Security in a Box: Tools & Tactics in Digital Security as well as guides on secure passphrases and message encryption to make their case against the bloggers much like EFF’s own Surveillance Self-Defense.

If convicted, the mandatory sentence in Ethiopia for terrorism and incitement offenses is a minimum of eight years—however hope remains that the court will exonerate the bloggers in the absence of substantive evidence to support the charges, according to Zone 9 founding member Endalk Chala. Already five of the bloggers were released last week, which some have attributed to anticipation of a visit by President Barack Obama at the end of the month.

In another group of cases, Yonatan Wolde, Abraham Solomon, Bahiru Dego, and Zelalem Workagenhu are facing charges for applying to attend an Internet security and social media training session abroad. All four were detained on July 8, the same day the Zone 9 bloggers were released, along with six other locally-based opposition politicians, social media activists, and youths, on suspicion that they have links to the diaspora-based opposition group Ginbot 7. Zelalem, who was the co-organizer of the training session, is also charged with using social media to oust the government and sending reports that appeared on independent Ethiopian satellite service ESAT tv. They will appear in court on July 22 to hear a verdict.

- Read more at EFF