It’s been over a week since Sudan shut down mobile internet via major service providers. While the internet has been shut off, several reports indicate that more than 100 people have been killed, over 700 injured, and at least 70 raped.
This is not the first time Sudan has shut down the internet, but this round of shutdowns are different from previous ones. This time around, internet shutdowns have directly been followed by reports of systematic and organized killings and looting by the Transitional Military Council (TMC). Just before mobile internet was shut down, the TMC, who has been negotiating with opposition groups to set up a transitional civilian government, withdrew from the negotiations and sent in the Janjaweed militia in a reported murderous attack on peaceful protesters.
According to people in Sudan that Access Now spoke with, the military has confiscated and destroyed mobile phones and other electronic devices of protesters so that the atrocities documented could not be shared with the world.
At the time of this publication, the forms of communication available in Sudan are short text messages, mobile phone calls, and fixed-line internet on a few operators. However, these connections to communications channels are insecure, and in the case of fixed line internet, the coverage rate is quite low.
From what we can observe it is clear that mobile internet shutdowns have exacerbated the human rights violations being committed in Sudan. It is common for families that are unable to find their loved ones to post their pictures in an attempt to crowd-source their whereabouts. Because of the mobile internet shutdown, many people may be unable to find out whether their friends and families are alive.
Previous shutdowns in Sudan mostly affected social media sites, and many people were able to bypass the blocks using virtual private networks (VPNs). This time around, it appears the military turned off the mobile internet completely, effectively taking most of the country off the grid.
The implication of this on the ground is clear: journalists are struggling to shed light on the high number of human right violations committed throughout the week, especially yesterday and Monday of this past week. Many local and international media houses were unable to speak with their sources and informants, file their stories, and verify the many videos that were posted online.
Notably, the alternative forms of communications, SMS and mobile phone calls, can be insecure, and this puts journalists, activists, human rights defenders, and even emergency service providers in danger.
Any way forward, which must be mediated and agreed upon, should make sure that the internet remains open and secure and that those who are responsible for the atrocities committed in Sudan are brought to justice. We the #KeepItOn community implore the government of Sudan and the telecom service providers in Sudan to turn and keep the internet on.
At Access Now, we urge the global community that cares about human rights to join us in loudly condemning this attack on the free expression rights of the Sudanese people. You can learn more about the harm of internet shutdowns and how they’re used to silence people and hide atrocities in our new report: The state of internet shutdowns around the world: the #KeepItOn report 2018.
Raise your voice on behalf of those who can’t. Share information about what is happening in Sudan and ask for the internet blackout to end now.