What do Zimbabwe’s internet disruptions say about the state of digital rights in the country?

26 July 2019

Internet

Zimbabawe Internet

Zimbabwe's January internet disruptions sent a chilling message to citizens that internet access is a favor, not a right.

Millions of Zimbabweans will remember January 2019 for spiraling prices for basic commodities, a massive fuel price hike, and multiple unexpected internet disruptions which lasted for several days.

When protesters took to the streets of Harare, the capital, to speak out against the dramatic 150 percent fuel price hike, the military responded with a brutal clampdown that took many by surprise. Clashes left scores of protesters injured or tortured and at least 12 dead.

As activists turned to social media to mobilize the protests and draw attention to Zimbabwe’s deteriorating economy, President Emmerson Mnangagwa's administration responded with restricting access to social media and entire networks in certain areas of the country on the grounds of national security.

Between January 14-21, citizens had difficulties accessing their bank accounts or communicating effectively with friends and family. All businesses and shops shut down as soldiers patrolled the streets.

The government issued directives from the president's office, channeled through the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) toward mobile and fixed telephony companies to restrict access to entire networks until further notice.

According to Netblocks internet shutdown observatory, the January disruptions included total network shutdowns that took Bulawayo, and Harare, the capital, offline, and restrictions on access to social media platforms and messaging apps including Facebook and Whatsapp.

The disruptions were partially lifted a few days later, but a ban on accessing certain social media services remained until it was lifted on January 21, hours after the country’s High Court deemed the ban ‘’illegal’’.

Zimbabweans now live in fear that a shutdown can happen again at any time on the government’s whim; authorities seem to view digital rights as a favor granted to citizens rather than a constitutional right. Read the full article on Global Voices here.