Zimbabwe internet disruption limits coverage of planned protests

Network data from the NetBlocks internet observatory confirm that internet access has been disrupted in Zimbabwe on Friday 31 July 2020 for a second consecutive day, following a lesser disruption on Thursday.

The incident was widely experienced by users as a slowdown or ‘throttling’ of connectivity speeds on state-owned network TelOne. Authorities have yet to present a court order or basis for the disruption.

Metrics provide timings of the incidents, which correlate with the times of planned protests:

  • Thursday, 30 July 2020: Approximately 5 hours
  • Friday, 31 July 2020: Approximately 14 hours

What happened?

Mass-protests over corruption and the economic crisis only partly materialized as authorities imposed a lockdown to counter the spread of COVID-19 following a series of high-profile arrests and demonstrations on Thursday evening.

Zimbabwe’s government warned that participation in Friday’s demonstration would be regarded as insurrection, and news media covered reports of an internet shutdown order hours before incident onset.

While there was no total telecommunications blackout and observed privately owned operators were unaffected, technical data provide evidence of a partial disruption on state-run networks that limited coverage of incidents and arrests.

Technical data corroborate hundreds of user reports detailing difficulties accessing online services during the period in question. Subscribers additionally note that the service provider’s help desk was unresponsive, while VPN services were found to be effective in circumventing the disruptions and restoring access to social media.

 

NetBlocks recommends against the use of network disruptions to limit the rights to free expression and free assembly.

Further reading:

 

Background: Zimbabwe’s 2019 fuel protest internet shutdown

On 15 January 2019, protests against the rising price of fuel swept Zimbabwe triggering a political backlash. NetBlocks reported internet shutdowns which rapidly proceeded to have nation-scale impact.

Further reading on previous NetBlocks reports:


Methodology

NetBlocks diffscans, which map the IP address space of a country in real time, show internet connectivity levels and corresponding outages. Purposeful internet outages generally have a distinct network pattern used by NetBlocks to determine and attribute the root cause of an outage, a process known as attribution which follows detection and classification stages.

A summary of data visualizations used in this report:

  • Network Connectivity (National): Internet providers and networks serving the affected region are visualized in a stacked time-series histogram to identify the start and end times of an internet shutdown event. Scales on the y-axis are adjusted to match localized maxima while minima indicate periods when networks became unreachable. The x-axis represents Universal Coordinated time (GMT+0).
    • Standard: Connectivity levels on the y-axis correspond directly to the observed number of reachable connections, as with National Connectivity charts.

NetBlocks is a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives for an open and inclusive digital future for all.

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