Amnesty urges Ethiopia to reinstate social media access

Friday March 10 2023
Ethiopians protesting

People gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during a demonstration on October 22, 2022. Amnesty International on March 9, 2023 urged the Ethiopian government to lift a blockade imposed on selected social media platforms. PHOTO | AMANUEL SILESHI | AFP


Amnesty International has urged the Ethiopian government to immediately lift a one-month-old blockade imposed on selected social media platforms.

Ethiopian authorities shut down access to popular social media platforms on February 9, 2023 after tensions between the country’s authorities and the Orthodox Tewahdo Church escalated.

The internet disruption was in response to planned protests over an alleged government-backed attempt to split the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewhado Church.

Read: Ethiopia Orthodox Church row resolved after talks

Last month, the Orthodox Church, the country's largest religious denomination, accused Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government of backing a breakaway synod created by bishops in the Oromia region and called for mass protests. 

But the Orthodox Church called off the public demonstrations following a meeting with the prime minister.  

Abune Mathias Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

Abune Mathias, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church prays on February 06, 2023. PHOTO | AMANUEL SILESHI | AFP

Amnesty International speaks

As the social media blockade enters its second month, Amnesty International said the continued it clearly violates citizens' rights to freedom of expression and access to information.  

"Ethiopian authorities have, for a month now, blocked people in the country from accessing selected social media platforms such as Facebook, Telegram, TikTok and YouTube," Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, Flavia Mwangovya said.

"The authorities thus continue to violate people's right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information," Mwangovya added.

Amnesty International called on Ethiopian authorities to immediately reinstate full access to social media platforms across the country.

The blockade, according to Amnesty, also flies in the face of Ethiopia's own constitution and national laws, as well as regional and international treaties to which Ethiopia is a party.

"The restriction further stains the country's already dismal record on media freedom," Mwangovya said.

Ethiopia, Africa's second-most populous country, has a history of imposing social media restrictions during protests.

Ethiopia’s religious crisis

The religious crisis in the dominantly Christian nation erupted in January after a group of rebellious ethnic Oromo archbishops formed a breakaway group called the Holy Synod of Oromia in defiance of the church's highest body or the synod.

The splinter group accused the church of maintaining a system of linguistic and cultural hegemony in which congregations in Oromia were not served in their native languages, an allegation the church denies.

11th time

In a statement sent to The East African last month, Surfshark, an Internet Shutdown Tracker, said the latest restrictions were the 11th time the Ethiopian government has imposed since 2015.

Five of these cases were related to protests, while six were related to other types of political turmoil.

"Undemocratic governments often pull the plug on internet services in times of unrest in an attempt to avoid backlash on controversial government actions and ultimately to silence the public," says Gabriele Racaityte-Krasauske, Surfshark spokeswoman.

"By restricting access to these three major social media platforms, many Ethiopians will be unable to communicate with each other and organise protests," she added.

According to Surfshark, Ethiopia and Sudan are the two most intensive countries by internet disruptions in Africa, with 11 recorded cases each.

Read: Juba detains 6 journalists over viral video of Kiir