This week, rights groups and activists in Bahrain reported widespread disruptions in mobile internet service following a series of street protests. The demonstrations arose amidst a general economic slowdown, and directly followed the government’s decision to strip citizenship from a prominent cleric, a common tactic for Gulf countries to silence domestic dissidents.
BREAKING: Internet is shut down in #Duraz area where the protestors are gathering. #Bahrain
— Nabeel Rajab (@NABEELRAJAB) June 23, 2016
Reports we’ve received detail how 3G and 4G mobile networks in the vicinity of the planned demonstrations were completely inaccessible during the protest, regardless of which Internet Service Provider users tried to connect with. Meanwhile, fixed-line networks and Wifi hotspots remained online. This suggests throttling of local cell towers in the geographic area where protests took place, but in the absence of network tests or confirmation of the shutdown, we can only point to the evidence and the government of Bahrain’s history of shutdowns timed to disrupt public protests and to thwart journalists.
Batelco and Viva telcos shutdown Internet Sces in #Duraz where protests. #Bahrein #Keepiton https://t.co/g8fZdZmINi
— Dhouha Ben Youssef (@_dby_) June 23, 2016
Wrestling sparks shutdown near Jammu, India
In an unrelated incident, local government near Jammu, India — close to the border with Pakistan — shut off mobile internet services surrounding an annual wrestling competition. Reports suggest that the government was trying to prevent violence after people were injured at the competition in 2014, when residents clashed over whether the wrestling bouts were occurring on burial grounds. The community groups allegedly reached a compromise and will shift the event to a new location in 2017. #KeepitOn campaign member Software Freedom Law Centre has tracked 30 shutdowns in the country over the past three years.
Although the reported justifications for the shutdowns in Bahrain and India are different, the results are the same, plunging entire societies into darkness. U.N. special rapporteurs Maina Kai and Christof Heyns have underscored the importance of communications tools during demonstrations — including tools that use the internet — arguing that shutdowns “rarely satisfy” principles of necessity and proportionality under international law. Shutdowns harm local economies and foster a climate of impunity that prevents journalists from reporting and stops human rights defenders from conducting their work.
That’s why we’re pushing back against shutdowns through the #KeepitOn campaign, which now has support from more than 80 organizations in 41 countries. You can pitch in by joining our pledge here and, if you represent an organization, you can sign up to join the #KeepItOn campaign at https://www.accessnow.org/keepiton. Finally, if you experience a shutdown or hear about one, you can report it by emailing us at [email protected].