An internet watchdog called Dyn is reporting that on Tuesday the Republic of the Congo’s Government pulled the plug on the African Nation’s Internet service. The primary Internet service in the Congo is a fixed line provider called Congo Telecom. According to Internet monitoring group Dyn, the Internet Service Provider subjected the nation to a complete blackout to quell participation in anti-government protests currently taking place. Popular radio station Radio France Internationale (RFI) was also brought down, with text-messaging services and phone calls also disrupted.
The majority of the large-scale protests have been occurring in the capital of the Republic, Brazzaville, where people are protesting against a referendum that would give the incumbent president the right to serve another term. Many people from the Congo feel that the referendum would unwisely and undemocratically extend the president’s lengthy stay in power.
According to news reports coming out of the area, government officials ordered the ISP CongoTel to help crackdown against the unwanted protests by ordering it to send the Internet into a state of complete darkness. In the Rep. of Congo, there is widespread Internet use, though unfortunately only the most affluent citizens can afford to have a connection at home: the majority of people relying on Internet cafes to connect to the World Wide Web.
On Tuesday, the protests in the Republic turned violent due to the authorities’ snap decision to ban a planned protest rally against the referendum (due to take place on October 25). During the violent episodes, police fired on protesters as they attempted to end the demonstrator’s efforts to stop President Denis Sassou Nguesso from obtaining his desired third term in office. That quest (currently illegal thanks to the Republic’s constitution) would allow the 71-year-old president to extend his rule by a further seven years – into a third decade.
Initial reports suggested that seven people were injured during the violence that erupted between police enforcement and protesters. Rozan Songui, a hospital administrator, said that 5 were wounded by police gunfire while two suffered injuries at the hands of tear gas canisters. According to eyewitness Rudel Ganziami, a resident of the capital’s southern Bacongo district, Police used tear gas in their attempts to disperse the angry crowds.
Sadly, it appears that those initial statements were incorrect, as it has now been reported that four people were killed and ten injured by the Police in the capital Brazzaville on Tuesday. This is not the first time that the protests have turned violent either. At the weekend, six were injured in confrontations with the authorities in the Republic of Congo’s second largest city Point-Noire.
A spokesperson for Amnesty International, Ilaria Allegrozzi, made the following statement about the violent response,
‘A heavy-handed response by security forces not only violates the protesters’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly but may enflame an already tense situation.’
Shutting down the Internet to quell dissent is a technique that has been used before both in the African Continent, and around the world. In January of this year, there was already one Internet blackout in the Rep. of the Congo when the nation was subjected to a three-day Internet outage. Back in January of 2011 during the Arab Spring, Internet blackouts were used to stop protesters in Egypt from using social media to coordinate their demonstrations against president Mubarak. In 2007, and 2013, similar blackouts were reported in Myanmar, where the Internet was also shut down to stop anti-government protests. While in Syria, the Internet has also been cut a number of times during the ongoing confrontation.