A group of internet rights bodies, #KeepItOn have appealed to the Ethiopian government to restore internet access to areas in the country’s eastern region.
Their call was contained in a joint letter published in the wake of reports that cities across Ethiopia’s Somali regional state were in a state of internet outage following security skirmishes between the federal and regional authorities.
“We are writing to urgently request that you ensure the stability and openness of the internet. We have received reports that your government has shut down the internet in Jijiga, Dire Dawa, and
Harar cities in Ethiopia.
“On behalf of the more than 150 organizations from over 50 countries that make up the #KeepitOn Coalition, we implore you to keep the internet on in Eastern Ethiopia,” their letter read in part.
Access Now, one of the key members of the coalition defines Internet Shutdown as: “an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.”
The internet shutdown was confirmed by residents on Wednesday according to a Reuters report. Social media users had severally reported of the situation during the security standoff that started last weekend.
The current situation is seen as one of key planks of the challenges facing reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in containing ethnic tensions in parts of the country.
The residents, one speaking from Oromia region and the other from the city of Harar, said the connection had been down for three days — the first time access has been cut off since parliament lifted a state of emergency in June.
Ethiopian government spokesman Ahmed Shide did not immediately respond to a phone call and a text message seeking comment on the shutdown, which was reported on Tuesday by digital rights group Access Now.
Violence broke out on Saturday in Jijiga, the capital of Ethiopia’s Somali region, with mobs looting properties owned by ethnic minorities. Security officials shot dead four people, a witness told Reuters. The government said unrest had been stoked by regional officials.
The coalition cited among other reasons the harmful effects of such shutdowns on human rights and on a country’s economy. Referring to PM Abiy’s inaugural speech in which he promised to protect freedom of expression and access to information.
They also quoted legislations and frameworks that made such actions a violation of international law. “In July 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed, by consensus, a resolution on freedom of expression and the internet with unambiguous language on internet shutdowns and other restrictions on freedom of expression online.
“Resolution A/HRC/RES/32/13: condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law and calls on all States to refrain from and cease such measures,” their letter added.
Demands by #KeepItOn Coalition
We respectfully request that you use the important positions of your good offices to:
- Ensure that the internet, including social media, is restored
- Publicly declare your commitment to keep the internet on, and to notify the public of any disruptions
- Encourage telecommunications and internet services providers to respect human rights through public disclosures on policies and practices impacting users.
Composition of the #KeepItOn Coalition
Access Now, Afro Leadership, Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Collaboration for International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).
Internet Sans Frontieres (ISF), Internet Yetu, NetBlocks, OpenNet Africa, Pan-African League of Bloggers and Cyberactivists for Democracy and Reporters Without Borders.