10 January 2019

Congo-Kinshasa: Web Shutdowns As Escalating Government Tactic

Kinshasa — THE restive Gabon and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are the latest African countries to shut down internet and broadcasting services to stifle dissent.

Such trends make it impossible for journalists and humanitarians to carry out their work efficiently and safely.

Last week, in the wake of contentious elections, DRC's government cut access to internet and SMS services and blocked the signals of at least two broadcasters.

This follows delays in the announcement of the results of general polls held on December 30. The announcement initially scheduled for this week has been deferred indefinitely.

Government justified the move, arguing the internet and SMS services were cut to preserve public order after "fictitious results" began circulating on social media.

Disconnections would remain until the publication of results.

David Kaye, the United Nations (UN) special expert on freedom of expression, said the network shutdown was in violation of international law.

"Shutdowns are damaging not only for people's access to information, but also for their access to basic services," the rapporteur said.

The development is impacting on the response to the deadly Ebola that has killed hundreds in the volatile country.

He said the shutdowns threatened the integrity of the electoral process.

More than 20 candidates are vying to succeed strongman Joseph Kabila, who is to bow out after 17 years in power.

Another strongman, Gabon's Ali Bongo, has survived a coup, culminating in shutting down the internet and broadcasting services on Monday.

Soldiers took control of the national radio station's offices at dawn on Monday and called on the public to rise up against Bongo, who has been recuperating abroad after suffering a stroke in Saudi Arabia in October.

Angela Quintal, Africa Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said the subsequent cuts on internet services were hindering journalists.

"We call on authorities in Gabon to immediately and fully restore access to the internet and lift all restrictions on broadcasting," Quintal said.

Cameroon, Ethiopia, Congo, Niger, Togo and The Gambia are among other countries that have resorted to internet shutdowns amid protests.

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