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Use of social media a crime during state of emergency in Ethiopia - ENCA

ADDIS ABABA – The Ethiopian government has announced that opening and posting the current situation in the country on Facebook, listening to Voice of America and German Radio, Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio (ESAT), Oromo Media Network (OMN), and accessing social media are crimes in the country.

“The military command will take action on those watching and posting on these social media outlets,” Siraj Fegessa, Ethiopia’s minister of defence said.

ESAT and OMN, based in the US, are the two major media outlets that diaspora opposition and various protesters get their information from. However, the two are considered dangerous and a tool to incite violence in the country known for its security and peaceful co-existence.

As broadcast late on Saturday on state TV, these regulations would be effective immediately for six months during the state of emergency Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegne declared last week.

The state of emergency was declared to curb the violent protests in parts of the country against the marginalisation and unfair political treatment of the Oromia andAmhara, the two largest ethnic groups in the country. The protests started last November and over 700 people have been killed by Ethiopian security forces, according to Human Rights Watch.

The announcement included restricting the movement of diplomats to 40km out of Addis Ababa without official permission.

The state of emergency also prohibits anyone making contact with groups designated as terrorists and meeting foreigners to discuss issues that could incite violence. According to the statement by Fegessa, those who break the terms of the emergency risk a jail term of three to five years.

“Rallies and public meetings without the permission from authorities is forbidden and gives the security forces the right to detain and search suspects and their houses or offices, phones or laptops without a court order,” the minister said.

Moreover, a red zone has been declared within 50km of the borders. Legal or not, during the six months no one can carry a firearm or any flammable material in the red zone. The red zone also includes the country’s major roads that connect to neighbouring countries.

The sides of the roads for 25km on either side are also classified as red zones. These roads include the Addis-Djibouti, Addis-Shashamane-Moyale, Addis-Shashamane-Dolo, Addis-Assosa, Addis–Harar, Addis–Gambela, Addis-Gebreguracha, Gondar-Metema, and Gondar-Humera roads.

A dusk to dawn curfew was also imposed on major projects, factories, farms, and government institutions. The announcement said that no one can enter these after 6pm and before 6am. If anyone violates these rules, security forces are ordered to take the necessary measures.

All political parties are also banned from giving press statements inciting violence, and no one, including religious leaders, can make political statements at religious gatherings, national, and sporting activities. Educational institutions are also included. The directive bans demonstrations in educational institutions.

Members of the security forces are also banned from asking for leave and cannot resign from their position. Refugees cannot leave their camps without proper authorisation.

Meanwhile, there has been no internet connection in Addis Ababa for the past week. The state of emergency provides for communications to be cut and it is not known how long this cut will last. The European Union and the US have advised the Ethiopian government to treat protesters and all Ethiopians well during this period.