Following a series of protests against the marginalization and persecution of the Oromo and Amhara people of Ethiopia, reports indicate that the government has shut down the internet in the country, and social media platforms have been inaccessible for the past seven days.
Mobile internet, social media cut for +7 days in the "African capital" #AddisAbaba. Gov spox says service will be back "when deemed safe"...— Karim Lebhour (@KaLebhour) October 11, 2016
These measures come after the government declared a six-month state of emergency on 9 October, reportedly to "put an end to the damage being carried out against infrastructure projects, education institutions, health centers, administration and justice buildings.” Reports put the death toll at nearly 100, many of whom died in stampedes during the protests. Thousands have also been arrested in relation to the protests.
This is not the first time that Ethiopia is shutting down the internet. Specific social media platforms were shut down in July, a move the government explained as an attempt to prevent leakage and 'distractions' during the country's national exams.
The protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions were reportedly coordinated through social media, which would explain the recent shutdowns.
Ethiopia has seen a number of demonstrations in Oromia region since November 2015, with protesters demanding greater self-rule, freedom and respect for the ethnic identity of the Oromo people, who have experienced systematic marginalization and persecution over the last quarter century. Authorities have responded using deadly force against the protesters on more than one occasion. On October 2 alone, 52 people were reportedly killed in a series of protests.
More protests have also sprung up in Amhara Region, with protesters advocating for political reforms, and the Welkait community demanding that ancestral land currently administered by the Tigray regional state be moved into the neighboring Amhara region.
Historically, the Oromo and the Amhara have often fought against each other, but the two communities have recently united in protest against the TPLF led government, leading to rising tensions in the country. Observers have compared the recent spate of violence to the protests following the 2005 general election, where nearly 200 people were killed. This time though, at least 30 people were reportedly killed in the Amhara region in one day alone.
Protesters in Ethiopia are reportedly using the internet to plan, mobilize and coordinate with each other, prompting the Ethiopian government to pull the plug on the internet even before the planned protests started.
Reports indicate that the internet was shut down in specific areas in Ethiopia during the worst of the protests, with mobile users reporting limited connectivity and sporadic lack of access to social media in the Oromia and Amhara regions for almost 12 months now.
Anti-government protests and a state of emergency. What is going on in Ethiopia? pic.twitter.com/pMO4EMgY14— AJ+ (@ajplus) October 10, 2016
Internet shutdowns continue to pose restrictions on demonstrations and on human rights in general, as the United Nations passed an amendment earlier this year highlighting access to the Internet as a human right.
The recent shut downs in Ethiopia and elsewhere amidst protests and potentially sensitive situations, such as the elections in Uganda and the Republic of Congo, are an indication of just how effective the internet is as a means of mobilization, coordination of protesters and communication between families and friends of victims.
On the whole, 20 cases of internet shutdowns have been documented worldwide over the last six months. In response to this, Access Now is leading a campaign dubbed #KeepItOn to document and raise awareness about internet shutdowns around the world.