Ethiopia’s internet shutdown triggers response
Global NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Ethiopia government should immediately lift its shutdown of internet and phone communications in the Oromia region of the country.
The shutdown has been in place since 3 January 2020 and has affected mobile phone networks, landlines and internet services in western Oromia.
According to HRW, the situation has prevented families from communicating and has contributed to an information blackout during government counter-insurgency in the area.
It was imposed in areas under federal military control and comes amid reports of government military operations against the armed wing of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an organisation which authorities consider as a rebel group fighting for secession of the Oromia region.
In January 2020 Ethiopia’s ruling party denied any link between the communication shutdown and military operations in the region.
A month later Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told parliament that the communication restrictions were in place in western Oromia for “security reasons.”
The prime minister was also quoted in August 2019 as having stated that he would “switch off the internet forever” if deadly unrest - prompted by online incitement - continued, adding that the internet was “neither water nor air and thus not an essential right.”
According to HRW, in 2019 alone, the country’s government has shut the internet down on eight occasions, during public protests and following an alleged failed coup attempt.
A statement from HRW said under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration, communication blackout without government justifications has become routine during social and political unrest.
Lietitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at HRW said the blanket shutdown of communications in Oromia region is taking a disproportionate toll on the population and should be lifted immediately.
“The restrictions affect essential services, reporting on critical events, and human rights investigations, and could risk making an already bad humanitarian situation worse,” Bader said.