“The insurgents were using telephone and mobile infrastructure to abort the government’s operations against them,” Deputy chief of staff of the Ethiopian defence forces Lt. General Berhanu Jula was quoted as saying recently.
HRW said since January 3, 2020, the government authorities have disconnected mobile phone networks, landlines, and internet services in western Oromia’s Kellem Wellega, West Wellega, and Horo Gudru Wellega zones. In East Wellega, residents reported that the internet and social media services were blocked, with text and cell service available only in major towns.
The shutdown has been imposed in areas under federal military control and comes amid reports of government military operations against the armed wing of the once-banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) otherwise called ‘Shene’.
“The Ethiopian government’s blanket shutdown of communications in Oromia is taking a disproportionate toll on the population and should be lifted immediately,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“The restrictions affect essential services, reporting on critical events, and human rights investigations, and could risk making an already bad humanitarian situation even worse.”
Under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration, communication blackouts without government justifications have become routine during social and political unrest, the Human Rights Watch statement said.
A ruling party regional spokesman told the media in January this year that the communications shutdown had “no relationship” to the military operations but then said that it had contributed to the operation’s success. The federal government offered no explanation for the shutdown until February 3, when Abiy told parliament that restrictions were in place in western Oromia for “security reasons.”