#KeepItOn: Eswatini authorities shut down internet to quell protests, ask people to email grievances

Update: October 21, 2021 —  Authorities in Eswatini have again disrupted access to the internet and social media platforms in response to ongoing pro-democracy protests. On Friday, October 15, 2021, the government shut down social media platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter for approximately two hours. As protests  intensified in the country, and reports of police brutality against people continued surfaced, on October 20, 2021, authorities ordered mobile operators to block social media, targeting Facebook and WhatsApp.

Access Now is continuing to call for open, fair, and accessible internet across Eswatini.

June 30, 2021 — Access Now is calling for an immediate reinstatement of internet access across Eswatini after authorities shut it down yesterday, June 29, in response to large-scale pro-democracy protests. 

“Shutting down the internet is a bad decision,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “But time and time again, these bad decisions get made. Authorities in Eswatini claim they want peace, but are in fact flaming tensions. Shutting down the internet then establishing a new email account for people to ‘express their grievances’ is absurd.”

Rumours of a potential internet shutdown sprang up on Twitter yesterday morning, and were later confirmed by local newspapers, stating the government ordered network providers Eswatini Post and Telecommunications, eSwatini MTN, and eSwatini Mobile to disconnect the nation.

In response to the growing unrest and physical gatherings during COVID-19, Acting Prime Minister, Themba N. Masuku, released a statement that outlines a curfew and school closures. “We are a Nation that believes in dialogue and it is with that in mind that we once again request all aggrieved emaSwati to use alternative channels to express their grievances. Government has opened an email address where emaSwati can continue to direct their concerns and petitions,” it reads.

The statement was published on the Eswatini government’s official Twitter account at approximately 15:20 local time. IODA and Google Transparency Report indicated a massive drop in traffic in the next two to five hours, however, Access Now received reports of disruptions starting earlier that day.

Access Now will continue to update the global community when more information is available.