TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND INTERNET BLACKOUT IN ETHIOPIA’S TIGRAY REGION
On November 4, 2020, the Ethiopian government and its allies declared a genocidal war on Ethiopia’s northernmost region, Tigray. As military forces encircled Tigray and brutally invaded the region, the Ethiopian government promptly shut down telecommunication and internet services. Since then, connectivity in Tigray has been sporadic and intermittent at best and nonexistent at worst, most rural areas having remained silenced for over a year.
The impact of the telecommunications and internet blackout has been catastrophic. Tigrayans in the diaspora have not been able to talk to their families in months. The Ethiopian government has “switched off” an entire region to hide the atrocities that their forces and allies are committing in Tigray. At the outset the Ethiopian government was successful in controlling the narrative, however, the nature of war became clear as refugees who poured out of Tigray into Sudan shared their stories of extrajudicial killings, massacres, and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Their stories were eventually corroborated by reports that trickled out of the region. There is now undeniable evidence of looting, wholesale destruction, agricultural destruction, extrajudicial killings, massacres, weaponized SGBV, mass arrests and detention in concentration camps where Tigrayans are tortured and executed.
The international community has a record of these atrocities despite the extremely limited access to the region and the deliberate and persistent telecommunication blackout mainly because of brave reporters and humanitarian workers who have for the most part been barred from Tigray and have worked under difficult circumstances to shed light on the suffering of theTigray people. Despite all that is known, there is much left unknown. The telecommunications and internet blackout have made it incredibly difficult forjournalists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and humanitarian organizations to confirm human rights violations and conduct methodologically sound investigations into the atrocities. Lack of connectivity has also hindered the humanitarian response heavily dependent on communication. Despite calls for peace by the Tigray government in December2021 and a consistent appeal from the international community to reconnect Tigray, there are no signs of restored connectivity. The Ethiopian government has only made the situation worse by bombing power stations, making access to electricity even more limited.
It has been over 15 months that Tigray has been in the dark; yet, despite the evidence that has emerged, the Ethiopian government achieved its objective in cutting off the region: the international community has not acted to stop the genocide in any meaningful way. Therefore, we call on the international community to facilitate the immediate restoration of full internet access and communication services in Tigray.