Senegal orders mobile operators to suspend internet access

Senegal orders mobile operators to suspend internet access

Another African country is in the news for the wrong reasons as Senegal has – again – cut mobile internet access for supposedly security-related reasons.

With the planned election abruptly delayed from 25 February to December there have been protests against what some see as an undemocratic extension to President Macky Sall's mandate. The government blames electoral disputes, which, it says, have threatened the credibility of the vote, for the delay.

As Reuters reports, the situation led to clashes between protesters and police late last week in a number of cities including the capital Dakar, resulting in three deaths and about 270 detentions. The government then refused to permit a silent march planned by activist groups for Tuesday and ordered mobile operators to suspend internet access. It blamed ‘subversive’ online messages for provoking unrest. The silent march is now scheduled for Saturday.

The UN Human Rights Office and Amnesty International have accused the authorities of disregarding fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression and using excessive force against protesters. There have also been complaints from the French foreign ministry and the US State Department, along with calls for a national political dialogue from  the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

This isn’t the first internet shutdown in Senegal. In fact, according to ITWeb Africa, a US group called Media Defence and the Rule of Law Impact Lab at Stanford Law School has now filed a case in the ECOWAS Court of Justice, challenging internet shutdowns that happened last year in Senegal between June and August and aiming to prevent future shutdowns in the country.

Other African countries where governments have imposed internet blackouts or restrictions on social media in recent years include Algeria, Ethiopia, Guinea, Sudan, Tanzania, Cuba, Chad, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Of course the problem extends beyond alleged censorship: the global cost to economies of shutdowns by order of government has been estimated in the billions of dollars.

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