We, the undersigned organisations, and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network of over 300 human rights organisations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns — urgently demand that the government of Ethiopia end the ongoing internet shutdown in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. Internet shutdowns during conflicts endanger people’s lives and block access to live-saving information. The continued blocking of internet access in the region since conflict broke out in August is a flagrant violation of international law.
When clashes between local militiamen and the federal military forces intensified on 3 August, the government of Ethiopia reportedly shut down internet services. 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. Civil society organisations have denounced the shutdown which is still in place and called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and instability in the Amhara region.
History of internet shutdowns in times of conflict and communal violence in Ethiopia
Authorities in Ethiopia have demonstrated no regard for human rights by wielding internet shutdowns during times of conflict and other crises. Authorities in the country shut off access to the internet in response to conflict in Tigray region in Northern Ethiopia for over two years resulting in a worsening humanitarian crisis. Ethiopia remains a major perpetrator of shutdowns in sub-Saharan Africa according to Access Now’s Shutdown Tracker Optimization Project database. Since 2016, the #KeepItOn coalition has documented at least 26 incidents of shutdowns in response to conflict, communal violence, and political turmoil. In 2023 alone, the internet has already been shut down in Ethiopia at least three times.
The ongoing shutdown in Amhara is the second to be documented in the region this year. On 6 April 2023, authorities shut down access to mobile internet services across the region following political tensions in response to the government’s announcement of their plan to dismantle the region’s special forces and integrate them into the national and regional security forces.
The first shutdown occurred on 4 February 2023 after the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church called for nationwide protests, sparked by an escalation of the disputes within the church. The Ethiopian Joint Security and Intelligence Task Force declared the protests illegal and discouraged the public from participating, as they would “deliberately create unrest”. When the church insisted on proceeding with the protests, access to social media platforms, including Facebook, TikTok, and Telegram, was blocked for over five months.
Internet shutdowns conceal human rights abuses
Following the declaration of a state of emergency in the Amhara region, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported that it had received reports of human rights violations. According to the EHRC, the clashes in various towns in the Amhara region have led to the killing of protesters and injury of civilians. According to the UN Human Rights Office, at least 183 people have been killed in clashes since July as well as reports of mass arrests of more than 1,000 people. Access to essential services such as banking, telephone, medical, and education services have been disrupted. Additionally, humanitarian assistance required for internally displaced people has been hindered due to roadblocks.
These human rights abuses have not been limited to the Amhara region alone. Between 3 and 13 April, authorities in Addis Ababa arrested six journalists, whom they accused of inciting violence. The EHRC further reports that there have been arbitrary arrests of civilians who are of ethnic Amhara origin, as well as Eritrean migrants.
Internet shutdowns violate international human rights standards
In 2019 during similar times of unrest, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia stated that “…the internet is not water or air” and the government would continue to shut down the internet if it was deemed necessary to save lives and protect property. These statements contradict provisions of national, regional, and international human rights standards and laws.
Article 29 of Ethiopia’s Constitution, provides for “right of thought, opinion, and expression”. Also, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) on access to information and the freedom of expression, both provide for the right of freedom of expression and access to information to be protected by states at all times. Whereas the rights and freedoms to opinion and expression are not absolute, any limitations to these rights must satisfy the threshold of lawfulness, necessity, and proportionality, as stated by the UN Human Rights Committee in General Comment No. 34.
The #KeepItOn coalition, together with the undersigned organisations, unequivocally condemns the internet shutdowns in Ethiopia and calls on the government to act in accordance with its international human rights obligations and reinstate access to social media platforms throughout the country and restore internet access in the Amhara region.
Amhara Association of America (AAA)
Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation
Alliance for Vietnam’s Democracy
Amhara Professionals Union (APU)
Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
Bloggers of Zambia (BloggersZM)
Center for the Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD)
Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Common Cause Zambia
Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO)
Digital Woman Uganda ( DWU )
Digital Rights Expert Group (Kazakhstan)
Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO)
Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center (EHRDC)
Global Digital Inclusion Partnership (GDIP)
Human Rights Consulting Group (Kazakhstan)
International Press Institute
International Press Centre (IPC)
Internet Protection Society (Russia)
Koneta Hub – South Sudan
Life campaign to abolish the death sentence in Kurdistan
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Office of civil Freedoms
Organization of the Justice Campaign
Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
The Nubian Rights Forum
Wikimedia Community User Group Uganda
Women ICT Advocacy Group (WIAG)
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)