Addis Ababa — A global network of over 300 human rights organizations from 105 countries is urgently calling on the government of Ethiopia to end the current internet shutdown in the Amhara region. The KeepItOn coalition, a global movement to end internet shutdowns, believes that internet shutdowns during conflicts put people's lives at risk and prevent access to vital information. The ongoing blockade of internet access in the region since the conflict began in August is a clear violation of international law, according to the coalition's statement.
Reports indicate that the Ethiopian government shut down internet services in August 2023 when clashes between the non-state militia Fano and federal military forces intensified. Following these escalations, reports of disruptions in flight operations to various cities in the region and internet shutdowns have also emerged. The statement reads, "as the conflict escalates and the security situation deteriorates, people in the region need to be connected to the rest of the world to report and document casualties and human rights abuses."
Following the declaration of a state of emergency in the Amhara region, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported receiving numerous reports of human rights violations. The clashes in various towns within the Amhara region have resulted in the killing of protesters and injuries to civilians, according to the EHRC. The UN Human Rights Office also reported at least 183 deaths in clashes since July, as well as mass arrests of over 1,000 individuals. Access to essential services like banking, telephone, medical care, and education has been disrupted, and roadblocks have hindered humanitarian assistance to internally displaced people.
This is not the first time Ethiopian authorities have resorted to internet shutdowns during times of conflict and crisis. The country has previously cut off access to the internet in response to the conflict in the Tigray region. Since 2016, the KeepItOn coalition has documented at least 26 incidents of shutdowns in response to conflicts, communal violence, and political turmoil. In 2023 alone, the Ethiopian government shut down the internet at least three times.
On April 6, 2023, authorities imposed a shutdown of mobile internet services across the region following political tensions arising from the government's plan to dismantle the region's special forces and integrate them into national and regional security forces.
Another shutdown occurred on February 4, 2023, after the leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church called for nationwide protests in response to escalating disputes within the church. Following the disputes, access to social media platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, and Telegram was blocked for over five months. In June 2023, the Ethiopian government finally lifted internet restrictions on major social media platforms.