NAIROBI: Ethiopia has been restricted social media after the orthodox church split turns violent. Following the church split, Ethiopia has blocked social media and several other communication services ahead of planned rival protests.
The dispute started last month when some priests accused the central church of ethnic discrimination, which it denies, and has since resulted in deadly violence.
The police outlawed the protests planned by both sides on Sunday. Some members of the church accused the government of supporting the group violently.
The protests broke out in the Oromia region when three church leaders established their own governing body and declared themselves archbishops last month. While some protesters criticized their action, others backed it.
According to the reports, access to Facebook, Messenger, TikTok, and Telegram was severely constrained from Thursday onwards.
Virtual Private Network (VPN) software allows people to access those restricted websites, but a complete shutdown of it would make that impossible. According to a London-based VPN analytics company, Ethiopian demand for VPN services increased by 1,430% on Friday.
In reaction to protests that broke out in 2020 after the murder of a well-known Oromiya musician, Ethiopian authorities have previously blocked or restricted access to the internet during the time of political upheaval.
In the course of a two-year conflict that came to an end in November with a ceasefire, internet, and phone services were also cut off in the northern Tigray province.
In the statement, Orthodox Church pledged that Sunday’s protest will take place. It said that the government’s ban was a proclamation to destroy the bank forever.
As part of broader unrest in Ethiopia, a multiethnic nation where control has been long contested by federal and regional authorities. Oromiya, a center for Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group has been facing the deadly conflict for many years.
According to the church, about 30 people have been killed in the riot since February 4.
After Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed advised his ministers to avoid the conflict, the statement called for demonstrations on Sunday and accused the Ethiopian government of interfering in the internal affairs of the church.
The Orthodox Church, which is followed by more than 40% of the population, and the Ethiopian state have long tight connections.
To express their support for the Orthodox Church, one of the few in sub-Saharan Africa to have existed before the arrival of European missionaries, they have committed online to defy the ban and hold their march despite it.
According to reports, a total internet outage is expected in the upcoming days. Although rarely employed in Addis Abeba, the nation’s capital, it is a method that is frequently employed throughout the 115 million-person nation.
Some parts of the Tigray’s northern region continued to be down, where a devastating two-year conflict ended in November due to a peace agreement mediated by the African Union.
In addition, schools were shuttered on Friday by the government as a result of the growing unrest in this extremely devout community.
The authorities are also getting ready for the annual AU summit, which is scheduled to take place in the following week.
As the AU’s headquarters are located in Addis Abeba, it will be the organization’s first gathering since the Tigray agreement was signed, and the government will be careful to avoid unrest there.
Three archbishops from Oromia, the region with the most population in Ethiopia and which surrounds Addis Abeba, have accused the leadership of the main church of prejudice and a lack of diversity.
According to them, other ethnic groups have had too much cultural sway over the Orthodox Church for too long. For instance, Amharic is the official language of the nation and the head of it is of Tigrayan descent.
The major church claims that services are held in the Oromo language, but the dissenting priests claim that this does not happen nearly often enough.
The expelled archbishops claim they have a lot of support in the Oromia region and had planned a counter-rally in Addis Abeba. They were excommunicated after establishing a breakaway synod.
But in a setback for the dissenters, a court issued an order against them on Friday prohibiting them and the clergy they recently appointed from going to Orthodox Church-affiliated churches.
According to some analysts, the patriarch, Abune Mathias, has not been on friendly terms with the government ever since he spoke out against the conflict in Tigray and controversially claimed that genocide was being committed there.
Since Mr. Abiy is seeing the Patriarch, tensions may decrease over the following few days after the rally ban and social media restrictions.
The state-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has also entered the debate, condemning the security forces in a statement released on Friday for employing excessive force against members of the main church.
It states that eight people were killed last Saturday during religious conflicts in Shashamane, a town in Oromia, and makes reference to extrajudicial killings, beatings, harassment, and imprisonments.