Amnesty calls on Ethiopia to end social media blackout

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Amnesty International on Thursday called on Ethiopian authorities to restore access to social media networks including Facebook, TikTok and YouTube as a blockade on some platforms entered its second month.

In a statement, Amnesty said the blockade clearly violated rights to freedom of expression and access to information and “further stains the country’s already dismal record on media freedom.”

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“Amnesty International urges the Ethiopian authorities to lift this blockade without delay and to end this culture of interfering with people’s right to express themselves and to seek and receive information,” said deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa Flavia Mwangovya in a statement.

Internet censorship watchdogs including the Open Observatory of Network Interference and Access Now have also noted a blockade on social media networks since February 9.

Amnesty said the blockage followed calls for street protests by leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church after a group of rebel archbishops created a dissident synod.

The Tewadeho Church – representing 40 percent of Ethiopia’s 120 million people – accused Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of offering a form of recognition to the breakaway bishops, and interfering in its religious affairs.

The demonstrations were eventually cancelled after a meeting between church leaders and Abiy.

When contacted by AFP neither Abiy’s office nor Ethio Telecom – a wholly owned public company – were immediately available.

Ethiopian authorities have cut or throttled access to the internet and social media platforms many times in recent years.

Between 2015 and 2017, connectivity was interrupted on a number of occasions by the previous government as it faced the largest street protest movement in 25 years.

Under Abiy, this tendency has continued.

The northern region of Tigray, the scene of an armed conflict with the federal government, was largely deprived of telecommunications for the two-year duration of the war.

Networks have been partially restored since a peace agreement was signed in November.

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