Digital rights group condemns internet shutdown in Senegal

A riot police officer shoots tear gas at demonstrators during a protest at the Cheikh Anta Diop University campus in Dakar, Senegal, June 1, 2023. [AP photo]

A digital rights group Paradigm Initiative (PIN) has condemned an increase of internet shutdown by the Senegalese government.

While calling on authorities to immediately restore internet and social media platforms, the lobby said such rampant shutdowns are breaches of Senegalese citizens' digital rights and data privacy.

Last week Senegal's government cut access to mobile internet services in certain areas.

According to Reuters, Senegalese authorities said the move was necessary because of deadly rioting in which "hateful and subversive" messages had been posted online.

The West African country has been rocked by days of violent protests in which 16 people have died, one of its deadliest bouts of civil unrest in decades.

Reuters further reported that the shutdown had extended to include all data on mobile internet devices in certain areas and at certain times.

The protests came after the sentencing of popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to two years in jail, which could prevent him from running in next year's presidential election.

Protesters have also been angered by President Macky Sall's refusal to rule out running for a third term which goes against the existing two-term presidential limit.

But PIN said such deliberate internet outages around the world have cost the global economy billions of dollars every year.

In a statement, the lobby said government internet shutdowns have cost USD 42.5 billion since 2019.

"We are pained to see the degradation of democracy and human rights in countries that are deemed role models in terms of peacebuilding and political justice on the continent. It is our hope that the Senegalese institutions and civil society will act to restore the rights of the citizens to use the Internet for the best," read part of a statement to newsrooms.

Interruption of Telegram, Twitter and other social media platforms are among those that have been greatly affected.

"As much as many think this is only a political issue, it is more of a human rights issue. Unlawful arrests of young people and political opponents constitute human rights violations," the lobby said.

Senegal, while having kept a reputation of being one of the most stable democracies in West Africa, has been experiencing a longstanding series of human rights violations in recent years.

In 2021, following protests, social media platforms were blocked for many hours. Multiple networks detected internet disruptions and a social media blackout.

Youths have increasingly used social media platforms to voice their concerns and call for justice in the country. Social media is seen as a tool for dissent and a threat to the integrity of government institutions.

Ahead of the 2024 presidential elections, multiple riots and civil unrest instances have been noted, more so in the past two years.

Social media has played a huge role in transmitting information, given that main television and radio channels have not been adequately reporting events and news due to fear of their activities being suspended.

"We are calling on the Senegalese government to immediately put a stop to the transmission of false information and promotion of violence by government and opposition loyalists and ensure media and journalists' digital safety and security in reporting unbiased news about current events in Senegal," PIN said.

The lobby further said Senegalese authorities should promote freedom of expression by releasing youths that were unlawfully jailed on the basis of sharing information that has not been proven to be disinformation or misinformation under a due process of law.

While calling for authorities to create a committee composed of government officials and civil society to ensure these disruptions do not happen again during elections, the lobby said internet providers should be allowed to offer a seamless internet connection to the citizens.

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