Ethiopian government’s internet disruptions undermine citizen’s rights: Watchdogs
The Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed led-government shutdown the internet services nationwide on Tuesday to quell protests that erupted in several cities over the shooting of the iconic Oromo singer Hachalu Hundesa on Monday night in Addis Ababa. The civil unrest has resulted in the death of more than 80 people.
According to NetBlocks, a digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance focused civil society group, internet services were not yet restored in Ethiopia as of Wednesday evening.
Juliet Nanfuka, a research and communications officer at Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), told Biztech Africa that by shutting down the internet the Ethiopian government had disrupted access to essential health care services.
“Ethiopia has in the past used national high school examinations publicly and even protests as the basis for disrupting digital communications. Thus undermining the rights of its citizens in so-doing,” she said.
“Moreover, State-sponsored network disruptions undermine the economic benefits of the internet, disrupt access to essential services such as health care, and often fail to meet the established test for restrictions on freedom of expression and the right of peaceful assembly under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”
Nanfuka said the impact of network disruptions persist long after access is restored, including in public trust of the State through information and action gaps that mostly affect individuals due to the disruption in communications.
In a statement on Tuesday Muthoki Mumo, a Committee to Protect Journalists sub-Saharan Africa representative, said Ethiopian authorities’ persistence of old patterns of censorship in response to crises, when the public most needs access to timely news and information, is deeply disappointing.
According to Access Now, an organisation that defends and extends the digital rights of users at risk around the world, the current shutdown adds to a growing list of government-mandated blackouts in Ethiopia, and is becoming a go-to tool for authorities to muzzle unrest and activism.
Berhan Taye, Access Now’s senior policy analyst and Global Internet Shutdowns lead said access to credible information is essential at times of crisis and emergency, and this current internet shutdown is causing further confusion, powerlessness, and anxiety among Ethiopians and the diaspora.
The East African nation has previously shut down the internet services more than 12 times, and most recently the government cut off the internet for approximately three months in the Oromia region. This has affected business operations of many companies and startups that rely on internet services in this digital era.
In 2016 when the internet was shut down for 30 days under the leadership of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the move cost the country about $8 million. Again in 2019 the 14 day blackout cost Ethiopia more than $65 million.