On October 8, 2016 the Ethiopian Government declared a State of Emergency as a result of protest and violence demonstrated in the Oromia and Amhara regions that have occurred over the past year.
CNN has reported that while the Ethiopia government has claimed that 52 people were killed in a stampede at a religious festival in the Oromo, “activists in Ethiopia disputed the government’s accounts and the official death toll of 52. They say security forces fired bullets and tear gas on the crowd and that more than 500 people died.”
Due to the violence, on October 16th the Ethiopian government issued restrictions and bans on Internet usage, postings on social media, crossing the wrists above the head, diplomatic travel, fire arms and the viewing of media that the government deems to be “terrorist media”. The Ethiopian government also set a curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in order to prevent further attacks on foreign-owned businesses.
Restricting Internet usage is a way for the government to prohibit communication that would be able to cause further civil unrest or chaos since protestors have taken advantage of the medium to arrange assemblies of protest and share videos.
With regards to the crossing of the wrists, the gesture is seen as a symbol of unity to Ethiopian protestors. The Olympian Feyisa Lilesa at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics used this symbol as he crossed the finish line of the men’s marathon.
In an article in the Washington Post, Feyisa Lilesa stated that he crossed his wrists “to raise awareness”: “hundreds of my fellow Ethiopians have been killed by security forces only because they peacefully protested against injustice. I knew there were millions of people watching the Olympics, and I wanted the world to see me.”
Subsequently, diplomatic travel was restricted as a means for the government to mandate diplomats from going outside the capital city, Addis Ababa.
Amnesty International has commented on the restrictions imposed by the government saying “heavy-handed measures by the Ethiopian government will only escalate a deepening crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 800 protesters since protests began in November 2015.”
The U.S. State Department has also responded to the situation.
In a press statement, they said: “We are troubled by the potential impact of the detention without a warrant and to further limit freedom of expression, including by blocking Internet access, prohibiting public gatherings, and imposing curfews. This declaration, if implemented in these ways, would further enshrine the type of response that has failed to ameliorate the recent political crisis.”
The current political and tense atmosphere in Ethiopia was influenced by the injustice felt by the people of Oromos.
According to BBC news, the Oromos “have long complained that they have been excluded from the country’s political process and the economic development which has seen the capital, Addis Ababa, transformed in recent years. The protests were initially over a plan [that was dropped] to expand the boundaries of Addis Ababa into the Oromia region.”