Social media restricted, mobile internet cut in Senegal amid political unrest

NetBlocks metrics confirm the restriction of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Telegram and other social media platforms in Senegal as of 1 June 2023. From 4 June 2023, mobile data was also suspended, sending many users fully offline in a daily curfew-style pattern for three days. The measures come amid widespread protests over the sentencing of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. Service was restored as of 7 June 2023. As of Monday 31 July, mobile data has again been restricted following the arrest of Sonko.

1 June: Restriction of social media in Senegal

Real-time network data show the restrictions in effect on Senegal’s leading mobile provider Orange (Sonatel) with restrictions subsequently also observed on Free (Tigo). The study is taken from a sample size of 4000 measurements from 120 vantage points across Senegal. Unrelated platforms have remained available without restriction. This class of disruption can be worked around using VPN services, which are able to circumvent government internet censorship measures.

4 June: Restriction of mobile data in Senegal

On 4 June 2023, authorities imposed a mobile internet shutdown in some areas, further limiting access to communications. The measure is implemented to prevent the “dissemination of hateful and subversive messages in the context of public order disturbances” per authorities, and has adopted a curfew-style daily cycle of disruptions. Such measures leave users fully offline and cannot be readily circumvented by use of a VPN.

31 July: Restriction of mobile data in Senegal after arrest of Sonko

On 31 July 2023, authorities again restricted mobile internet access in Senegal. The incident comes after the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko on Friday. From of 1 August, cellular data has again been cut, as Senegal adopts an apparent curfew-style pattern of internet shutdowns that have continued daily, with service typically disabled between around 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. local time.

The mobile data curfew has continued for a 5th day as of Friday 4 August 2023:

2 August: Restriction of TikTok

On 2 August, authorities restricted access to social video platform TikTok due to the alleged “spread of hateful and subversive messages threatening the country.”

5 August: Detention of Sonko’s lawyer

Reports emerged of the detention of Ousmane Sonko’s French lawyer, Juan Branco, as Senegal’s mobile internet curfew entered its 6th day.

What’s happening in Senegal?

Ousmane Sonko, a prominent opposition figure in Senegal, has been sentenced to two years in jail on charges of “corrupting youth,” leading to widespread protests in Dakar and other major cities. The court acquitted Sonko of rape and death threat charges but found him guilty of immoral behavior towards individuals younger than 21. The sentence could potentially bar Sonko from running in the upcoming presidential election. Protests have broken out in response to the verdict, with Sonko’s supporters claiming the charges are politically motivated and part of a plot to stymie his political career

Senegal has a history of using social media restrictions to control protests. In 2021, NetBlocks found that authorities limited access to social media and messaging apps, in addition to measures targeting traditional media. However, the new censorship measures are the most severe observed in the country to date.

Senegal’s government has also faced a series of activist cyberattacks over the treatment of Sonko, which brought down several state websites and online platforms hosted on the government ADIE network earlier in the week.

NetBlocks recommends against the use of network disruptions and social media restrictions, given their disproportionate impact to fundamental rights including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

Further reading:



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