As protests continue in Sudan, government restricts social media access

Days after the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said it cut internet services to avert chaos after the country’s presidential election, internet users say Sudanese authorities are blocking access to popular social media platforms as anti-government protests continue in the country faced with worsening economic crisis.

Over the past few years, the Sudanese pound has lost its value and the prices of key goods have more than doubled.

In December, demonstrators irked by increase in the price of bread and fuel set the ruling party headquarters in the city of Atbara ablaze, with protesters calling on President Omar al-Bashir to step down. According to official estimates, 19 people had been killed in the protests by December 27.

The protests against Bashir, which are the most sustained since he took power in a coup in 1989, is believed to be fostered by the internet as the state tightly controls traditional media.

Head of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service, Salah Abdallah, told a news conference on Dec. 21 that the government was considering bringing back the kind of internet blackout it imposed during deadly protests in 2013. “There was a discussion in the government about blocking social media sites and in the end it was decided to block them,” he said.

According to Reuters, users of Zain, MTN and Sudani — the three major telcos in Sudan — said they have been able to access Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp only through a virtual private network (VPN).

Hashtags in Arabic have been widely used by protesters on social media. Hashtags in English such as #SudanRevolts, used in 2013, have also been used.

Reuters reports that NetBlocks, a digital rights NGO, saw evidence of “an extensive internet censorship regime” in data it collected, including from thousands of Sudanese volunteers.

It has become the practice of repressive governments in Africa to block internet access or introduce policies that discourage use, in order to stop free speech. Usually, when they own up to such actions, they insist on its importance to ensure peace and stability.

In DRC, a government official said the internet was cut to forestall chaos. “There are people who have indoctrinated the public with false numbers about this election. This has laid the groundwork for a popular uprising,” DRC president’s diplomatic adviser, Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi told AFP.

Sudan

Similar actions have been taken in Cameroon and Burundi. Usually, they are to stop a deafening voice demanding change.

Meanwhile, a constitutional amendment proposed this month would allow Bashir retain his position beyond 2020 when his current term ends.

Bashir was declared wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2010, after being charged with several counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.