Ethiopian government restores Internet after weeks of blackout during deadly protests

Violence erupted across the country following the death of a prominent Oromo singer and activist

Internet was finally restored by the Ethiopian government on Thursday, following weeks of blanket shutdown as unrest punctured much of the East African nation.

According to Netblocks, a nongovernmental organization that tracks web access worldwide, the Internet was severed just after 9 a.m. local time on Tuesday, June 30, as national protests gained momentum following the shooting death of Hachalu Hundessa, a renowned singer and activist within the Oromo ethnic group, the previous night.

The blackout was deemed a vital national security measure by officials to quell mounting dissension, much to the chagrin of human rights organizations, journalists and freedom of speech advocates who condemned the crackdown.

“First off, there is no legal ground for the government in Ethiopia to shut the Internet,” one journalist tweeted. “Threat to national security is usually the presumed excuse, but in no way can the violence of this month be near to that level of a threat.”

Despite being Africa's second-most populous country, with a population of around 109 million, only around 15 percent are reported to have Internet access.

The move into full restoration comes following more than three weeks of violence, its most significant spate of turmoil in three years, and amid high unemployment and hardship stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. It has also cast an uncomfortable spotlight on growing ethnic tensions within the country.

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The Oromo group, of which Hundessa belonged, comprises around 35 percent of the country’s population. Hundessa, 33 – a former political prisoner himself – amassed a large following especially among the youth, singing songs that often touched on encouraging fellow Oromos to resist government oppression.

In the aftermath of his death, Ethiopia Attorney General Adanech Abiebie told the press that two men confessed to killing Hundessa as part of a coup plot against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.

In this Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 file photo, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at the European Council headquarters in Brussels. The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize was given to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Friday Oct. 11, 2019. 

In this Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 file photo, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at the European Council headquarters in Brussels. The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize was given to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Friday Oct. 11, 2019.  (AP)

Ahmed, the nation’s first Oromo leader, assumed office in 2018 and introduced a number of sweeping political and economic reforms, which entailed opening up publicly owned entities to private sector investors and reconstituting the military to limit its role in politics.

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Ahmed was additionally awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending the 20-year post-war territorial stalemate between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Nonetheless, over 230 people have lost their lives in the latest bout of rebellion, and some 10,000 Oromo people are reported to now be displaced. Nonethnic Oromos have also been brazenly attacked by mobs, according to anecdotes from inside the beleaguered country.

Just hours after Hundessa’s killing, protesters burnt two resorts that belonged to former Olympic runner Haile Gebrselassie in the towns of Ziway and Shashemene, in addition to setting a livestock farm he owned ablaze. More than 330 vehicles were set alight in Oromia, an area in the center of the country, as well as the capital Addis Ababa.

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Religious authorities, including the archbishop of West Arsi, Abune Henok, have gone on to claim that some have exploited the moment to also assail Orthodox Christians, who make up just under 40 percent of the population.

Ethiopians have also taken to the streets across the U.S. in recent days, including in Washington, to call for peace in the country.

More than 5,000 people accused of participating in acts of violence have been detained by Ethiopian government authorities.