ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Ethiopia's government illegally blocked social media and news websites during the months of turmoil that led to the country's ongoing state of emergency, a new report says.
The report by Amnesty International and the Open Observatory of Network Interference also found "systematic interference" with access to political opposition sites and ones supporting freedom of expression and gay rights.
"This raises serious concerns that overly broad censorship will become institutionalized under the state of emergency," said Michelle Kagari, an Amnesty International deputy regional director. The report says access to WhatsApp and at least 16 news sites was blocked.
Human rights groups and opposition activists have said hundreds have been killed in waves of anti-government protests that began in November 2015, demanding wider freedoms in one of Africa's best-performing economies and a close U.S. security ally.
Ethiopia's government declared a state of emergency in October after dozens were killed in a stampede when police tried to disperse protesters at a religious festival. It set to end in April.
The government dismissed the new report as "one-sided, not credible and baseless."
"There is no internet blackout in Ethiopia," deputy spokesman Mohammed Seid told The Associated Press, though internet services have been widely affected since early October. "What we have is a certain obstruction on mobile data services. It will be resolved very soon."
However, a former government spokesman, Getachew Reda, acknowledged the existence of a blackout and said it will be restored "as soon as it no more threatens the proper implementation of the state of emergency."
Many in Ethiopia are using virtual private networks, or VPNs, to access social media after mobile data was partially restored 10 days ago.