Human Rights Watch requested the government to lift the shutdown of internet and phone communications in Welega, Oromia. In its report on March 9, Human Rights Watch said that the two months old shut down has ‘taken a toll on the population.’
Most parts of Western Oromia has been in the military command post since 2018. And since January 2020, the government has disconnected telecommunications services in Kellem Wollega, West Wollega, and Horo Guduru, with SMS and voice services only available in major cities.
Prime minister Abiy on his appearance in parliament last February said that telecommunications shutdown was imposed due to ‘security issues’ in the area. According to local reports, government forces have been engaged in an operation in wollega against the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), a former wing of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
Since the military took over the administration in Wollega, violence, including the killing of civilians and government officials, has been reported. The government has been blaming OLA for the violence, while OLA denies the blame. The government forces made mass detentions, including OLF members and other opposition parties based in Oromia.
“The restrictions affect essential services, reporting on critical events, and human rights investigations, and could risk making an already bad humanitarian situation even worse, ” said the Human Rights Watch report quoting Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. She added, “The lack of transparency and failure to explain these shutdowns only furthers the perception that they are meant to suppress public criticism of the government.”
Abiy’s government is infamous about its sudden internet shutdown. In 2019 only the government shut down the Internet eight times due to multiple reasons, including following the assassination of government officials and the National examination.
The prime minister once said that ” The Internet is not water or air… If it is used to inspire others to kill and burn, it could be shut down not only for a week but forever.”
On the other side, Human Rights Watch noted that shutting down entire communication violates freedom of expression. And even in times of conflict can not be justified under human rights law.