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Ethiopian gov't 'systematically and illegally' keeping people offline - Report

Ethiopian gov't 'systematically and illegally' keeping people offline - Report

Ethiopia

International rights group, Amnesty International has accused the Ethiopian government of deliberately blocking access to social media and news websites as part of efforts to quell anti-government protests.

According to a 5-month research by Amnesty and the Open Observatory of Network interference (OONI), access to whatsapp and 16 other news outlets were blocked by the regime, despite the action being without legal basis.

The report further noted that the government employed Deep Packet inspection (DPI) technology to filter access to ‘banned’ websites. ‘‘DPI is a technology that can be bought and deployed on any network. Though it has many legitimate functions, it can also enable monitoring and filtering of internet traffic,’‘ Amnesty noted. 

The internet blocking had no basis in law, and was another disproportionate and excessive response to the protests. This raises serious concerns that overly broad censorship will become institutionalized under the state of emergency

“It’s clear that as far as the Ethiopian government is concerned, social media is a tool for extremists peddling bigotry and hate and therefore they are fully justified in blocking internet access.

‘‘The reality, though, is very different. The widespread censorship has closed another space for Ethiopian’s to air the grievances that fueled the protests,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“The internet blocking had no basis in law, and was another disproportionate and excessive response to the protests. This raises serious concerns that overly broad censorship will become institutionalized under the state of emergency,” he added.

The research also reported that internet access on mobile devices had been completely blocked in Amhara, the capital Addis Ababa and Oromia in the lead up to protests in the three regions on 6 and 7 August.

Their finding was confirmed in Google’s transparency reports for the period between July and November 2016, which showed a dramatic drop in internet traffic out of Ethiopia on the two days when at least 100 people were killed by security forces during the protests.

As part of state of emergency rules, access to internet was restricted in parts of the country. A recent report indicated that access to mobile internet was relaxed. Most people have complained that where internet signals exist, they are painfully slow.

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