Internet in eastern Ethiopia shut down after regional violence

People hold Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) flags as they celebrate the returning of Jawar Mohammed, US-based Oromo activist and leader of the Oromo Protests, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on August 5, 2018. (REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri)
Updated 08 August 2018

Internet in eastern Ethiopia shut down after regional violence

  • Outbreak of violence in eastern Ethiopia left 4 dead at weekend
  • New reformist PM has pledged greater freedoms
NAIROBI/ADDIS ABABA: Authorities have shut off Internet access in eastern Ethiopia amid an outbreak of violence there, residents said on Wednesday, a sign of the challenges facing reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in containing ethnic tensions in parts of the country.
The residents, one speaking from Oromia region and the other from the city of Harar, said the connection had been down for three days — the first time access has been cut off since parliament lifted a state of emergency in June.
Violence broke out on Saturday in Jijiga, the capital of Ethiopia’s Somali region, with mobs looting properties owned by ethnic minorities. Security officials shot dead four people, a witness told Reuters.
The government said unrest had been stoked by regional officials.
Government spokesman Ahmed Shide told Reuters on Wednesday that the Somali region’s president had stepped down and that he has not been reinstated, contrary to local media reports.
He declined to comment on the Internet shutdown, first reported by digital rights group Access Now.
The residents in Oromia and Harar said they were concerned the violence could spread from the Somali region into other parts of eastern Ethiopia, in part because tit-for-tat ethnic reprisals were one part of the unrest that roiled the country for three years until the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in February.
The government had imposed emergency rule in February, a day after Hailemariam’s resignation after three years of street protests and violent unrest.
Since replacing Hailemariam in April, Abiy has turned politics and the economy on its head in the country of 100 million people but continuing ethnic violence poses a challenge to his reform drive.
Nearly 1 million Ethiopians are currently displaced from their homes due to ethnic violence in the Somali and Oromia regions and elsewhere, according to the United Nations.
The government’s move to shut down the Internet amid the latest violence over the weekend suggests a continuation of a knee-jerk reaction to unrest in recent years.
Abiy, a 41-year-old former army officer, has pledged greater freedoms. In the four months since he took office, the government has released political prisoners and lifted a ban on opposition groups.
During the protests before Abiy took office, the government frequently switched off the Internet, sometimes for several months at a time, in Oromia, a large region that surrounds the capital Addis Ababa and extends east all the way to the Somali region.
Halting the ability of young people to organize demonstrations or strikes online or on social media, using smartphones, was a strategy used to contain protests.
Ethiopia, a country of 100 million people, is one of the few countries in the world that still has a state telecoms monopoly, which makes shutting off the Internet more simple than if there were multiple telecoms providers.

Sri Lanka rejects plans for $10m Shariah university

Updated 37 min 34 sec ago

Sri Lanka rejects plans for $10m Shariah university

  • Madrasas to be absorbed by Ministry of Education in wake of Easter Sunday attacks
  • More than 100 arrests have been made following the rioting. A curfew has been lifted and life is returning to normal

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Tuesday refused permission for a planned $10 million (SR37.5 million) Shariah university in one of the country’s main cities.

And in the wake of the deadly Easter Sunday terror attacks on hotels and churches, the premier also announced that all madrasas would be brought under the umbrella of Sri Lanka’s Education Ministry.

The latest moves by the Sri Lankan government follow widespread unrest on the island, with anti-Muslim riots having caused damage running into millions of dollars.

Wickremesinghe’s orders came after a fact-finding report into the university compiled by MP Ashu Marasinghe. He recommended that the institution, being constructed at Batticaloa, in the Eastern Province, should be privately operated and titled Batticaloa Technology University. The new education complex is located close to the township of Kattankudy where suspected ringleader of the Easter Sunday suicide bombings, Zahran Hashim, lived and preached his messages of hate and violence.

The Sri Lankan government analyst’s department said on Tuesday that DNA tests proved Hashim died in the attack at the Shangri-La hotel in Colombo.

President’s Counsel, Ali Sabry, a prominent lawyer and political analyst, told Arab News on Tuesday that the premier’s announcement was welcome.

“We don’t need a Shariah university at this juncture when there is a lot of suspicions on various Islamic topics that need to be clarified by Islamic theologians following the suicide attacks by Muslim extremists,” Sabry said. He stressed that the country’s main focus should be on strengthening ways to ensure peaceful coexistence among all communities.

The Sri Lankan University Grants Commission had a set of guidelines to license new universities, and Wickremesinghe’s latest recommendations would also be included among the requirements for a new university, Sabry added.

The prime minister’s ruling on madrasas (Islamic seminaries) would provide more transparency on the activities of the institutions, he said. “Their curriculum and their co-curricular activities should maintain a common standard and these madrasas should prepare the students to make them fit into society instead of just learning Arabic and Islam only.”

M.R.M. Malik, director of the Muslim Affairs Ministry in Colombo, told Arab News that currently all madrasas function under his ministry. “There are 317 madrasas throughout the island with an estimated 25,000 students. In addition to the local teachers, there are 38 Arabic teachers and 85 foreign students,” he said.

Most of the teachers are from Egypt, Pakistan and India, while many of the overseas students studying at the madrasas are from Libya, Pakistan, Jordan and India.

Sri Lanka Muslim Council President N.M. Ameen told Arab News that the local community had never wanted a Shariah university. However, he said the proposed curriculum for the madrasas should be constructed in consultation with Islamic scholars and the Muslim community.

Meanwhile, Western Province Gov. Azath Salley, revealed that damage caused by anti-Muslim riots had reached nearly Rs900 million (SR19.2 million). The governor was speaking to Arab News following a visit to some of the worst-affected villages on the island.

“Speaking to the families of the vandalized properties, it’s clear that an organized gang had attacked these earmarked properties owned by Muslims,” said Salley. “One child, whose father was killed in his presence, is still in a state of utter shock and dismay.” He added that turpentine oil had been poured on the face of the dead carpenter by his killers and set on fire.

The governor urged the authorities to bring the attackers to justice. He added that the government would provide compensation to victims of wrecked properties.

Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasakera said that more than 100 arrests had been made following the rioting, and that a curfew had been lifted and life was returning to normal.