Zimbabwe’s High Court has ruled that the country’s mobile operators must restore internet services following a week-long nationwide shutdown ordered by the government.
Last week, the government directed operators to prevent users from accessing social media websites and services including Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter. The court has now stated that Security Minister Owen Ncube did not have the authority to issue such a directive.
Bloomberg reported that the country’s three mobile operators - Econet Wireless, NetOne and Telecel – now face legal action from two media advocacy groups, including the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
The lawsuit also targets Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa and two other government officials. The advocacy groups argue that the shutdown has damaged business and affected incomes by preventing access to the electronic bank deposits through which public workers are paid. They also argue that it has resulted in threats to human life.
Zimbabwe has been gripped by nationwide protests against the government’s recent 150% fuel price hike, prompting a police crackdown in which 12 people have lost their lives. The directive to block social media services was ordered in an apparent attempt at damage control.
While the operators complied with the order, Econet reportedly sent messages explaining the situation to its subscribers and stating that the situation was “beyond our reasonable control”. The court has ordered operators to “unconditionally resume the provision of full and unrestricted internet services to all their subscribers forthwith.”