Africa 

Twitter backlash after Ethiopia PM’s internet ‘not water or air’ threat

“Internet is not water, internet is not air. Internet is a very important. However, if we use it as a revolution tool to incite others to kill and burn, it will be shut down not only for a week, but longer than that.

“For sake of national security, internet and social media could be blocked any time necessary.

“As long as it is deemed necessary to save lives and prevent property damages, the internet would be closed permanently, let alone for a week,” these are pronouncements of Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during an August 1 press conference.

Abiy was for the first time reacting in person to assassination incidents of June 22 during which internet was cut across the East African country. Internet was also recently cut for national exams in the country.

Abiy stressed that if deadly unrest in the country continues with online incitement, internet in the country could be cut off “forever.” He adds that even though Ethiopia wants the internet to help drive development, it is “neither water nor air,” underlining its dispensability.

But his comments have received strong backlash from a large cross-section of Twitter users. Opponents underline the need for government to protect the rights of online users and not find justifications to infringe on digital rights.

Amnesty International’s East Africa region also waded in joining calls for a rethink of the PM’s position. One of Ethiopia’s famed bloggers accused the PM of outsourcing blame.

“(The Prime Minister) blames the neutral communication platform for violence in his administrative territory. To respect liberty of citizens and protect law and order for majority’s safety is your job, Mr. Prime Minister. Don’t outsource the blame,” Befeqadu Hailu tweeted.

A number of people, however, agreed with the PM’s pronouncements stressing that security was paramount in the national discourse and needed not be compromised in any way.

The prime minister has been praised for reforms that include freeing political prisoners and ending a state of emergency, but internet shutdowns amid the unrest have worried many Ethiopians. One came during national exams.

The country is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies and has the continent’s second-largest population.

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