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Ethiopia: Social media accessible again after 5 months of blockage

Migrants use a cell phone as they lay on the deck of Spanish NGO Open Arms   -  
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Petros Karadjias/Copyright 2022 The AP. All rights reserved


Social networks and messaging services, including Facebook, Telegram, TikTok and Youtube, were once again freely accessible in Ethiopia on Wednesday after more than five months of restrictions, an AFP journalist and the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) observed.

OONI, an association that tracks online censorship, had reported blockages on these sites and applications since 9 February, when leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church called for demonstrations against the creation of a dissident synod.

Since then, these social networks have only been accessible via a virtual private network (VPN), a device that enables users to connect virtually from another location.

On Wednesday (Jul. 19), these sites were freely accessible from the Ethiopian network, an AFP journalist noted.

According to local media Addis Standard which also reported the end of restrictions, the latter were put in place in response to anti-government protests stemming from tensions within the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International and non-profit Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD) had called out the move by the authorities.

Amnesty International condemned the blocking, which "clearly violates citizens' rights to freedom of expression and access to information". 

Neither the government nor the public operator Ethio Telecom responded to AFP's requests.

Last June, the (CARD) said in a campaign that internet restrictions impacted "the survival of modern businesses." 

The OONI Probe application, which detects online restrictions and blockages, also reported free access to these sites.

The Ethiopian authorities have cut off or restricted access to the internet or to certain platforms on several occasions in recent years.

The previous government did so several times between 2015 and 2017, when it was faced with a protest movement the likes of which had not been seen for 25 years.

This has also been the case since Mr Abiy came to power in 2018.

The northern region of Tigray, the scene of an armed conflict with the federal government between November 2020 and November 2022, was largely deprived of any means of telecommunications for two years. Networks have been partially restored since the signing of a peace agreement last November.

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