The Ethiopian government has once again shut down the country’s Internet access, just days after at least 55 people were killed in a stampede that broke out at a religious festival. Internet access to all major social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Viber, have been denied to the general public. The BBC reports that the no official reasons have been given for the Internet blackout, but notes that it is happening as violent anti-government protests continue to grow in the Oromia region of northern Ethiopia. Protesters are demanding better representation in the Oromia region and Ethiopian government, while pressing for a more equitable distribution of the country’s wealth and resources.
Ethiopian authorities have repeatedly blamed the renewed spate of violent protests on the country’s diasporic community. According to the government, the diasporic community is responsible for organizing the protests using social media platforms.
Pattern of Censorship
Ethiopia has a well-documented history of arbitrary government censorship that has mostly targeted perceived government enemies.
In 2014, a number of websites belonging to the opposition criticized government policies and were eventually blocked in the lead up to the 2015 elections.
In July, the government shut down access to all major social media platforms for a couple of days, in a move it said was meant to curb examination malpractice and get students to focus on their studies.
By August, the Internet was again shut down as anti-government protests continued to swell.
Last Sunday, at least 55 people were killed in a stampede at a religious festival in the Oromia region. Reports say the holy ceremony assumed political overtones when attendees began openly clamouring for wider political participation for the region, leading to a clash with police who fired warning shots that triggered the deadly chaos..
Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn though has denied allegations that police initiated the stampede with their warning shots. He insists that the protesters caused what he describes as “pre-planned mayhem,” with many of them falling to their death in surrounding ravines.
Strong waves of anti-government protests have repeatedly hit the Oromia region since November last year. The protesters say they feel largely excluded from Ethiopia’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which is mostly controlled by members of the Tigrayan community.
Protesters also fear that their farms and homes could be stolen in a new government legislation concerning land. The EPRDF has held power since 1991 and has remained in control despite widespread disaffection towards it from the marginalized people of Oromia and Amhara.