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Ethiopia Restores Access to Facebook, TikTok, and More After Five-Month Blackout
Social media is back in Ethiopia after the government quietly lifted blocks that they put in place five months ago in response to online calls for street protests by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
The Ethiopian government has lifted its five-month-long ban on Facebook, Telegram, TikTok, and YouTube, allowing citizens unrestricted access to these social media platforms as of Wednesday. The blackout was implemented on February 9 this year following tensions between the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the government.
During the ban, citizens could only access these platforms through virtual private network (VPN) software, which incurred additional data costs. OONI, an organization that monitors online censorship, had reported the blockages since February 9 when leaders of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church called for demonstrations against the establishment of a dissident synod.
The Internet Society has reported that Ethiopia's internet outage has resulted in an economic loss of 42 million dollars due to its ripple effect on businesses. However, other sources suggest that the actual figure might be even higher.
The decision to lift the restrictions comes after months of limited access, during which human rights groups like Amnesty International and the non-profit Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD) criticized the government's actions. Amnesty International condemned the blockage, stating that it violated citizens' rights to freedom of expression and access to information. Neither the government nor the state provider Ethio Telecom responded to queries from AFP.
The Ethiopian authorities have previously implemented internet restrictions on multiple occasions in response to various social and political events. Similar restrictions were observed between 2015 and 2017, during a significant protest movement, and continued under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's leadership since 2018.
The northern region of Tigray experienced a prolonged telecommunications blackout during an armed conflict with the federal government between November 2020 and November 2022. Some network services have been partially restored following a peace agreement in November 2022.
As the government eases the restrictions, citizens in Addis Ababa were observed freely accessing social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, without the need for VPNs. However, the government has not officially commented on the lifting of the ban, leaving questions regarding the reasons for the initial blackout and its implications unanswered.
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