Ethiopia: UN calls for end to internet shutdowns

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A senior UN official has called for Ethiopia to put an end to internet shutdowns and revise controversial hate speech laws that could be used to suppress free speech.

Speaking at a press conference in Addis Ababa on Monday, David Kaye, the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of expression, praised the reform policy of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed but raised concerns over ongoing censorship issues.

Calls for greater freedoms

“The government continues to think that internet shutdowns are a tool they should use and I want to strongly urge them not to use them as tools and to commit not to using them,” David Kaye told reporters in the Ethiopian capital on Monday.

Ethiopia’s only internet service provider is state-owned Ethio Telecom, which cut internet access multiple times in 2019 without notice.

The internet was once again shut off on Thursday, during the rapporteur’s one-week visit to the country. On this occasion, the outage was brief and the government said it was part of efforts to contain a cyberattack targeting financial institutions – another pressing issue across East Africa.

However, the shutdown brought the topic to attention yet again, prompting the UN’s David Kaye to call upon the government to stop using internet shutdowns. He also took the opportunity to call upon Ethiopia to revise a new draft of hate speech laws that could be used to suppress freedom of speech.

Prior to Abiy Ahmed coming into power last year, vague terrorism laws were used to arrest and detain government critics and there are fears the new hate speech laws could be used in a similar vein, despite Abiy’s efforts to open freedom of speech during his tenure.

Featured image: “Human Rights Council – 29th Session” flickr photo by UN Geneva https://flickr.com/photos/unisgeneva/18732952630 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.