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Authorities shut down the internet around protests and elections

Internet shutdowns are an increasing autocratic trend globally; Africa is no exception.

On 31 March, polling stations for the presidential run-off in Sierra Leone (2nd quartile) closed, and the authorities shut down the internet and disconnected all mobile-communication services. The measure was supposedly taken to prevent the National Electoral Commission and other bodies from sharing results with party affiliates.[1]

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), authorities shut down the internet for 12 hours in an attempt to obstruct a protest against President Joseph Kabila’s ongoing refusal to stand down, despite his term having ended.[2] Elections were originally scheduled for November 2016; they finally happened in December 2018, with a number of irregularities registered, including arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders (HRDs).[3] The DRC’s government ordered an internet shutdown as vote counting began, suspending access to the internet and social media platforms and blocking the broadcasting signals of certain stations.[4]

In January, authorities in Chad (4th quartile) shut down the internet ahead of scheduled demonstrations over economic hardship.[5] Again, at the end of March, social media users were suddenly unable to access Facebook and WhatsApp using two major internet service providers: Airtel and Tigo. Airtel and Tigo blamed the disruptions on technical problems at the time, but an Airtel agent reported that the authorities ordered the restriction for security reasons.[6] In a strange twist, authorities asked companies – including Airtel and Tigo – to text all their customers informing them the protests were banned.[7]

These restrictive attitudes were reflected offline. Between January and March, hundreds were arrested during protests – which gained momentum despite digital restrictions – against Chad’s austerity measures. Nearly 50 were sentenced to prison terms.[8] Vicky Regbassi, a comedian who posted in solidarity with protesters, was charged with incitement to tribal hatred and public disorder; he was tortured during his detention, and had to be released into medical care.[9]

In June, internet services were shut down in Mali (3rd quartile, with a decline in scores across each of our themes over the last decade) after police violently shut down a demonstration, organised by opposition parties, calling for transparency in the presidential elections scheduled for July.[10]

Traditional media broadcasters also face the threat of disconnection. In the DRC in April, ten members of the National Intelligence Agency raided the headquarters of Radio Télévision Vision Grands Lacs and disconnected its broadcast signal.[11]

 

 

[1] AFEX, Sierra Leone Joins Global Trend: Shuts Down Internet and Mobile Services during Elections, 2 April 2018, available at http://www.africafex.org/digital-rights/sierra-leone-joins-global-trend-shuts-down-internet-and-mobile-services-during-elections__trashed

[2] Reporters Without Borders, RSF Condemns DRC’s Latest Internet Blackout, 27 February 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/rsf-condemns-drcs-latest-internet-blackout; see also Right2Know, DRC Activists Take on Vodacom & Others Over Internet Shutdowns, 20 February 2018, available at http://www.r2k.org.za/2018/02/20/drc-activists-take-on-vodacom-others-over-internet-shutdowns/

[3] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018

[4] Journalistes en Danger, RDC – Élections: Un Journaliste Enlevé et Violemment Battu pour Avoir Couvert un Meeting d’un Candidat à la Présidence, 20 December 2018, available at http://jed-afrique.org/2018/12/20/rdc-elections-un-journaliste-enleve-et-violemment-battu-pour-avoir-couvert-un-meeting-dun-candidat-a-la-presidence/

[5] AFEX, Chad Plunged into Social Media Blackout: No Government Explanation Forthcoming, 3 April 2018, available at http://www.africafex.org/digital-rights/chad-plunged-into-social-media-blackout-no-government-explanation-forthcoming

[6] AFEX, Chad Plunged into Social Media Blackout: No Government Explanation Forthcoming, 3 April 2018, available at http://www.africafex.org/digital-rights/chad-plunged-into-social-media-blackout-no-government-explanation-forthcoming; see also Amnesty International, Strangled Budgets, Silenced Dissent: The Human Cost Of Austerity Measures In Chad, 16 July 2018, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr20/8203/2018/en/

[7] Amnesty International, Strangled Budgets, Silenced Dissent: The Human Cost Of Austerity Measures In Chad, 16 July 2018, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr20/8203/2018/en/

[8] Amnesty International, Strangled Budgets, Silenced Dissent: The Human Cost Of Austerity Measures In Chad, 16 July 2018, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr20/8203/2018/en/

[9] Amnesty International, Strangled Budgets, Silenced Dissent: The Human Cost Of Austerity Measures In Chad, 16 July 2018, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr20/8203/2018/en/

[10] Access Now, Fighting Censorship During the 2018 Elections Season, 7 June 2018, available at https://www.accessnow.org/fighting-censorship-in-2018-elections/

[11] Reporters without Borders, DRC Intelligence Agents Shut Down TV Channel in Bukavu, 23 March 2018, available at https://rsf.org/en/news/drc-intelligence-agents-shut-down-tv-channel-bukavu

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