Ethiopian LGBT Activist Banned by Facebook for using fake name

An Ethiopian LGBT activist and leader has had his account blocked by Facebook for not using his real name.

The activist, who goes by the pseudonym Happy Addis, uses the social network site to create and manage some of the most popular groups for gay Ethiopians, including Zega Matters, which has more than one thousand members.

He does this even though the East African country considers homosexuality a serious crime and those convicted of same-sex relations can face 15 years in prison – the minimum sentence for those who commit murder in the United Kingdom.

Due to these harsh laws, many Ethiopian LGBT citizens use a fake name to interact with others online in order to avoid punishment from the authorities and escape anti-gay violence.

On Friday morning, Happy discovered his account had been blocked due to a Facebook policy that requires users to go by their real names on the site.

A Facebook spokesperson told Time magazine that users who require anonymity can either use a secret Facebook group or a different social platform that allows anonymity.

However, Happy says neither of these options are realistic, as using your real name is “like outing yourself” – something that those who fear physical violence want to avoid at all costs.

“People will go and attack you. Even other gay people, you don’t trust them,” he said.

“How can you find out whether they’re real gay people using their real account?”

He also said that without access to Facebook, his ability to help those in a similar situation is severely limited.

“If Facebook kicks us out we have no other option.

“Facebook is the most popular thing. Google+ and other things are not popular and people don’t use them much. We can’t find people there because nobody uses those.”

Happy says that for many, the service he provides through using Facebook is invaluable; he feels he is saving lives by giving the oppressed members of the  LGBT community in Ethiopia somewhere safe they can share their thoughts and fears.

“I made this group five years ago. That’s where people come to seek information, seek advice, seek counselling from other people.

“There’s not free press, even political activists have a hard time connecting to each other.

“For the gay community [Facebook] is much more important. We can’t meet publicly and there’s no [other] way to get in touch with other gay people in Ethiopia.”

Ethiopia was recently listed as one of the countries in which gay men are least likely to show their face on social networking apps, through fear of violence or prosecution.

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