• World - Africa
  • Updated: February 10, 2023

Ethiopia: Social Media Restricted As Church Rift Turns Violent

Ethiopia: Social Media Restricted As Church Rift Turns Viole

Social Media Restricted In Ethiopia, As Church Rift Turns Violent

Access to social media platforms has been restricted in Ethiopia, the Internet watchdog NetBlocks says, after violent protests sparked by a rift within the country’s Orthodox Church.

Protests erupted in the Oromia region last month after three church officials crowned themselves archbishops and established their own governing body.

Some protesters opposed their relocation, while others supported it.

NetBlocks announced on Twitter that access to Facebook, Messenger, TikTok, and Telegram had been significantly blocked, citing network data it had obtained.

The statement came just hours after the church announced that at least 30 people had died in protests since February 4.

The church issued a statement calling for protests against the new ruling body on Sunday, accusing the Ethiopian government of "meddling" in the church's internal affairs after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed requested his ministers to remain out of the conflict.

The Ethiopian state has traditionally maintained tight connections with the Orthodox Church, which is home to more than 40% of the population.

Legesse Tulu, the government's spokesperson, did not immediately reply to calls for comment on Friday, according to reports. 

To avoid bloodshed, the authorities declared in a statement on Thursday that the impending protest had been prohibited.

Ethiopian authorities have previously shut down or restricted internet access during periods of political instability, as in response to protests in 2020 following the death of a popular Oromia musician.

Internet and phone connectivity were also cut off in Tigray's northern province for the majority of a two-year conflict that concluded in a ceasefire in November.

The Orthodox Church said Sunday's protest will go ahead and said the government's ban constituted "a statement to destroy the church once and for all".

For many years, Oromia, home to Ethiopia's biggest ethnic group, the Oromo, has been embroiled in deadly conflict, as part of broader upheaval in Ethiopia, a multiethnic country where control has long been contested by federal and regional authorities.

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