Ethiopia's leader promised to protect freedom of expression. But he keeps flicking the internet kill switch

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(CNN)Abel Wabella is no stranger to the dangers of pursuing digital activism in Ethiopia.

In 2014 he was charged under a controversial anti-terrorism law, which has been described as providing the state with "unnecessarily far-reaching powers" by Amnesty International.
Wabella spent over a year in jail because of his role as co-founder of Zone9, a blogging collective that highlighted human rights abuses, corruption and political repression in the country.
It wasn't until 2018, during a period of mass reform and resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, that the final charges were dropped against the group's members.
"When Abiy Ahmed came to power, he released journalists, re-branding the country as one with a bright future," Wabella said.
As well as freeing journalists, Prime Minister Abiy also released political prisoners, unblocked hundreds of websites, and appointed women to half of his cabinet posts.
The changes were part of a new agenda, which he pledged would respect freedom of expression. "In a democratic system, the government allows citizens to express their ideas freely without fear," he said in April 2018.

Unreliable connections

During the past month, however, there have been several nationwide internet blackouts, leaving friends and families disconnected, businesses unable to operate, and journalists prevented from reporting on events.
Recent developments have left many in Ethiopia skeptical about the durability and sincerity of Abiy's reforms. Atnaf Brhane, a fellow co-founder of Zone9, said that the internet shutdowns had created "a bad record for a 'reformist' leader."
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