Haile Gebrselassie threatens to sue Facebook as 78 die in Ethiopian violence


ADDIS ABABA - Social media giants Facebook could be in real trouble over the Ethiopian violence which has left dozens death and thousands displaced.

Ethiopian former long distance runner Haile Gebrselassie on Thursday threatened to sue Facebook, linking the media company to the current crisis in his country.

While addressing media in Addis Ababa, the double Olympic and multiple world champion in 10,000 meters slammed the goverment for being lenient on Facebook, adding that he will 'take up' the role.

‘’If the government of Ethiopia fails to sue Facebook, I may sue,’’ he is quoted as saying in an interview.

Last week, dozens of people were killed in Oromiya region following a security alert by media entrepreneur and activist Jawar Mohammed.

Mr Mohammed, who enjoys 1.75 million following on Facebook, accused the goverment of strategically withdrawing his security to 'expose him to assasins'.

So powerful was the statement that a host of youths engaged the police in running battles, leading to indiscriminate shootings and subsequent unprecedented deaths.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed blamed the violence on Jawar, hinting at a possibility of gagging his popular Oromo Media Network, which he linked to incitement.

And Mr Gebrselassie seems to be agreeing with goverment over Jawar's involvement, thus the decision to contemplate suing Facebook where Jawar enjoys massive support.

"Since many died in a few days, this is enough to sue Facebook," Gebrselassie, a long-distance running legend in the country, is quoted as saying.

Ethiopian government on Thursday confirmed that at least 78 people had been killed following the spontaneous violence which erupted after Jawar's 'disruptive' post.

Ms Billene Seyoum, Abiy's press secretary, said the violence had an ethnic and religious dimension to it and had been exacerbated by the involvement of forces “that push to create a climate of fear and hopelessness”.

Besides last week's violence, Mr Abiy has been struggling to curb ethnic violence, which has escalated since he took over in 2018 from Hailemariam Desalegn.

Sections of Somali region witnessed violence in 2018 which led to the death of over 59 people. Perpetrators of the violence are facing criminal charges in federal court.

The ethnic violence could erode Abiy's international achievements including the recently won Nobel Peace Prize. He ostensibly bagged it following his role in signing of historic peace deal in Eritrea.

US Secretary to the state Mike Pompeo on Friday called Mr Abiy and discussed the protests in Oromiya region and countrywide ethnic violence.

"They also discussed recent violent protests in Oromia and the need to peacefully address the challenge of ethnic conflict," a statement posted on the State Department website said.

Abiy is also facing external pressure from Somalia where Jubaland state has often accused him of using non AMISOM forces to interfere with her internal administration.


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