EZEMA Party (Ethiopian Citizens for Social
Justice Injustice) is an increasingly negative force in Ethiopia. Even though it is not a ruling party in Ethiopia, it attacks free speech and independent voices more zealously and vigorously than the government and the ruling party themselves.
EZEMA’s leader, Dr. Berhanu Nega, has never been known to be a friend of free speech. When he returned from exile with his opposition party, Ginbot 7, two years ago, he aligned himself with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and unleashed his digital cadres against journalists, commentators, opposition party leaders, and anyone who dares criticize the government and his party.
EZEMA goes beyond verbally attacking critics and urging the government to arrest them. Its recent mode of operation is to de-platform independent media organizations and commentators from Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. For this purpose, EZEMA created a group called Network Against Hate-Speech. It has 26,000 followers on Facebook. EZEMA also uses its television channel, ESAT, to go after critics and journalists. Earlier this week, ESAT succeeded in shutting down Abbay Media’s Youtube channel by filing a false copyright claim.
Using funds it receives from EZEMA and possibly from the Ethiopian government, the Network Against Hate-Speech lobbies Youtube and Facebook to remove pages and channels that belong to critics of EZEMA and the Ethiopian government.
Facebook and Youtube are willing partners in this charade. They make no effort to make sure that reports by Network Against Hate-Speech are legitimate.
Facebook’s hostility toward press freedom and free speech in Africa is a source of outrage by journalists and human rights groups, including Amnesty International. On May 3, 2020, Amnesty International published an article that stated: “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg likes to sing the praises of his platform as a champion for freedom of expression, but this rings hollow for many journalists in Somalia.”
Several legitimate Ethiopian media companies, including Mereja TV, distinguishing Ethiopian commentators and scholars such as Achamyeleh Tamiru, Zemedkun Bekele, Melaku Tedla and many others have been arbitrarily and capriciously de-platformed by either Youtube or Facebook or both based on false allegations of hate speech.
Last month, EZEMA’s Network Against Hate Speech and the Ethiopian government collaborated with Youtube in silencing Mereja TV’s Youtube channel that has 220,000 subscribers and 2,500 videos.
This past October, EZEMA worked with both Facebook and Youtube to silence Zemedkun Bekele, an influential commentator who advocates human rights for minority groups.
If Facebook and Youtube are serious about cleaning up their platforms from hate speech and harmful material, they should be working with legitimate independent media organizations such as Mereja TV, instead of attacking them based on false claims of hate speech by a political party that is known for its contempt for press freedom.
The fact is the so-called “Network Against Hate-Speech” is itself a hate group that is indirectly promoting ethnic and religious strife in Ethiopia by working to silence advocates of human rights and journalists who expose government officials when they are involved in the incitement of violence.
Ethiopians need to come together and expose Dr. Berhanu Nega’s EZEMA and its affiliated groups that are waging a war on free speech and stifling important national debate in Ethiopia in collaboration with Facebook and Youtube.