A 30-second Skype call in Ethiopia could land you 15 years in prison
A new law makes it a crime to engage in audio or video communications over the Internet
The Ethiopian government has passed new legislation that makes it illegal to use Skype and most other video chat platforms.
The country's government has passed a new law that makes it a crime to engage in audio or video communications using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype, Google Talk and most other video chat platforms, according to Al Jazeera.
Anyone who makes a phone call over the Internet reportedly faces a three to eight year prison sentence and heavy fines thanks to the May 24 legislation.
The punishment for using an official Internet calling service such as Skype is even stronger, with violators facing a potential 15 years in jail, the African Review reports.
Ambroise Pierre, head of the non-profit organization’s Africa Desk, said the measure is really intended to restrict the flow of communication in and out of the country.
"The Ethiopian government is trying to attack every means of information exchange," Pierre said.
Former BBC Ethiopia correspondent Elizabeth Blunt says that law may be intended to protect the state's sole telecommunications provider, Ethio Teleco.
"Internet cafes may be allowing people to make calls for far less than the cost of Ethiopia telecom, the state's telecommunications provider that has the monopoly and charges very high prices — and doesn't want to have its service undermined," Blunt told BBC.
The new legislation also gives the government permission to inspect any imported voice communication equipment, Al Jazeera reports.
Internet access in Ethiopia is already relatively limited.
Only 360,000 Ethiopians, or .04% of the country’s population, had access to the Web in 2009, PCMag reports.
Access in the country’s capital, Addis Ababa, is also unreliable.
Several people have taken to Twitter to express anger over the new law.
"#Ethiopia - #Skype, not allowed please use smoke signals," Coldtusker wrote.
“Cant foster an environment of innovation w so much strangulation of the pipes. Guess they have a strategy out of it,” TMS Ruge tweeted.
Ethiopia has a long history of restricting new technology and later accepting it.
Owning a satellite dish in Ethopia was illegal 15 years ago, according to the blog “Transforming Ethopia.”
Credit cards were also outlawed at a time.
"Both examples show the distrust that the Ethiopian state has always had towards technological advancement," the blog says.