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What's Happening In Tigray? Internet Shutdowns Avert Accountability

Content note: the following post contains references to sexual assault, war crimes, and murder.

Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition are calling on all parties in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict to cease any attempts to censor the population and conceal war crimes through internet shutdowns.

“Turn the internet on, and shine a light on the Tigray region,” said Marianne Díaz Hernández, #KeepItOn Fellow at Access Now. “Internet shutdowns cannot be arbitrarily implemented by governments and other parties who don’t want the world to witness their harrowing behavior.”

Since the start of the conflict in November 2020, internet and telecommunication shutdowns, and alleged website blockings, have been used as a weapon of information control and censorship by involved parties. To date, broadband and mobile internet remains off, and Tigray remains blacked out.

Against all odds, some information is managing to escape the region, including numerous accusations of troops from Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the Amhara militia, committing heinous crimes against civilians including mass rape and sexual violence, mass murder, and abuse of refugees.

“We know there are abhorrent acts of violence being carried out across the Tigray region,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “But without internet access, journalists and human rights defenders are unable to fully monitor the situation, or provide the emergency support so desperately needed.”

The #KeepItOn coalition once again urges all parties in the Tigray conflict to:

  • Stop shutting down the internet and digital communication services in the Tigray region; and
  • Immediately facilitate conditions to enable the reinstatement of full internet access in all areas currently targeted by internet shutdowns.

Ethiopian government:

  • Stop arbitrarily shutting down access to the internet, telephone communication, and social media platforms, and publicly assure people that the internet remains open, accessible, inclusive, and secure;
  • Order the internet service provider, Ethio Telecom, to equally provide all people with high-quality, secure, and unrestricted internet access;
  • Ensure that “additional steps are taken to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that are owned or controlled by the state,” such as Ethio Telecom, as stipulated by UN and OECD guidelines; and
  • Order the internet service provider, Ethio Telecom, to inform internet users of any potential shutdowns, and to take all reasonable steps to fix any disruptions to service.

This is not the first call for connectivity the #KeepItOn coalition has been forced to make, having sent an open letter to authorities on June 18, 2021, and raised the alarm over Ethiopia’s almost regular internet and social media shutdowns during important events, protests and conflicts, since 2016.

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