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Africa offline... 2019 has civil rights groups worried

Africa offline... 2019 has civil rights groups worried

Human rights organisations have expressed concern over the spate of internet shutdowns in Africa and warned that certain governments are defying the UN charter on freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech focused organisation ARTICLE 19 has condemned the shutdowns in Zimbabwe, Sudan, DRC and Gabon.

Increase in basic price commodities in Zimbabwe (specifically the price of petrol) and Sudan have caused an internet shutdown. Elections in DRC were preceded by the government cutting off communication. South Sudan has restricted the coverage of the protests in Sudan. Gabon's coup attempt was followed by an internet shutdown.

"Internet shutdowns in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Gabon have grave implications on freedom of expression in the countries and should be especially discouraged in the context of the ongoing political and social climate," said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Regional Director.

"In a situation where it is almost impossible to exercise freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly on the ground, the internet gives citizens an alternative space to organise and express themselves around discussions on national issues. Given the worrying context of arrests of protestors, blocking access to the internet nationally is a clearly disproportionate response," he added.

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, added: "A general network shutdown is in clear violation of international law and cannot be justified by any means... Access to information is crucial for the credibility of the ongoing electoral process."

Econet Wireless was forced to suspend connectivity in Zimbabwe and DRC according to the company's founder and executive chairman Strive Masiyiwa.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Masiyiwa said that failure to comply with the government would have resulted in arrests of the management of the telco.

According to research in 2016 there were 11 internet shutdowns in Africa while 12 disruptions were witnessed in 9 African countries in 2017.

Association for Progressive Communication (APC) predicted more of this worrying trend in 2019. "The way we started 2019 is an indication, it seems we are going to witness many more shutdowns and other digital rights violations in the African continent," it said.

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