African leaders reaffirm commitment to internet access amid blackout in Sudan

By AG Publisher: APCNews     Johannesburg,

At the same time that governments, companies and civil society were promoting the benefits of the internet for African development at the African Internet Governance Forum on 24-26 September, Sudan experienced a wholesale internet shutdown. The massive outage was connected to a violent crackdown on protests over fuel subsidy cuts by the Sudanese government.

Activists claim President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s government ordered the shutdown on 25 September 2013 in an attempt to prevent the dissemination of disturbing images and videos of protesters. Although reports vary, 700 arrests were made and dozens are confirmed dead.

The Sudanese mobile company Zain’s SMS service was also blocked during the outage. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube continued to experience service issues long after access was restored.

Evidence now suggests that the shutdown was not a catastrophic technical failure, but rather an intentional act to disconnect citizens of Sudan from the rest of the world and from each other. According to a Renesys study, “by count of impacted networks, it is the largest national blackout since Egypt disconnected itself in January 2011.”

Protesters were connected. Calls appeared on social media urging citizens to protest throughout Sudan over what was called Martyrs’ Friday – a day to remember those who have fallen while peacefully protesting. In Khartoum, many going to pray were prohibited from entering or reaching mosques. Activists turned to Twitter to garner solidarity using the hashtags #Abena and #SudanRevolts and they developed a crisis mapping tool whereby users tweet to #AbenaMap to report protests and incidents.

Government tactics to halt revolutions have proven unsuccessful in Syria, Egypt and Tunisia. “The power of people communicating in solidarity and joint action is a power that even the most over-confident rulers and regimes cannot overcome, not in the long term”, said APC’s executive director Anriette Esterhuysen in response to Egyptian protests in 2011.

Censorship of the media is common in Sudan. According to the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), on 19 September 2013 the newspapers of three news agencies were confiscated from the printers before they even hit the newsstands because they contained articles discussing the government’s decision to cut fuel subsidies and the general economic hardship citizens are enduring.

APC firmly believes that the ability to share information and communicate freely using the internet is vital to the realisation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These rights, including access to information and freedom of expression, must be guaranteed by all governments.

APC urges the Sudanese government to abandon its forceful tactics against protesters and its censorship of both the media and internet. APC advocates for freedom of press, freedom of association, and freedom of expression both online and offline.

More information:
APC Internet Rights Charter
Global Voices Online – Protests in Sudan and Dozens Feared Dead
Girigna News
Sudan Tribunte

For updates on this case, follow: @girifna

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