At least 16 news sites and the WhatsApp messaging app were blocked in Ethiopia between June and October, in what human rights organization Amnesty International says is evidence of deliberate and systematic government measures to crush dissent.
Amnesty published research Tuesday that showed a correlation between protests and clashes, and the drop in access that accompanied these times of heightened tensions. It also evaluated specific websites linked to political opposition leaders and human rights organizations that are suspected targets.
“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,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty’s deputy director for the region. “The reality, though, is very different. The widespread censorship has closed another space for Ethiopians to air the grievances that fueled the protests.”
The study was conducted to investigate the characteristics of any censorship taking place, particularly in the Oromia region. Contacts of Amnesty and their investigative partners, the Open Observatory of Network Interference, have reported unusually slow connections and the inability to access social media websites.
Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter, have been widely inaccessible since March, while mobile Internet access was completely blocked in Amhara, Addis Ababa and Oromia in August. A Google transparency report shows a dramatic drop in outbound Internet traffic from Ethiopia during an August episode in which at least 100 people died, the researchers said.
Access was limited again in October as the state of emergency following the Irreecha incident began. Mobile access in Addis Ababa improved for a few days in early December before “going dark” for some users again.
Maria Xynou of the Open Observatory of Network Interference said the report shows “incontrovertible evidence of systematic interference” in the widely reported connectivity and access issues.
“This all paints a picture of a government intent on stifling expression and free exchange of information,” Xynou said.
To read the entire report, see this link.