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Oct 11, 2016

Internet Curfew in Gabon

Gabon, located along the Atlantic coast of Central Africa, has been the recent highlight in Internet censorship news. The country experienced political duress following the re-election of President Ali Bongo Ondimba after elections held on August 23, 2016. The election results, announced August 31st, were contested by many, including the opposition party of Jean Ping, which lost by a slim margin.

Days before the results were announced, there were reports of slow connections and service disruptions. When the results were announced, many demonstrated in protest of what they perceived to be unfair elections. Of these, hundreds were arrested. The Internet was then shut down at about 9 p.m. local time. The government ordered the shutdown with the intent of preventing protesters from communicating with one another and the outside world.

The Internet was shut down for 104 hours in total, and afterwards Internet services were restored only partially.  There were again reports of throttled bandwidth, social media blocking, and continued limited internet access, as there had been before the days-long shutdown. In addition, a 12-hour Internet curfew was imposed, occurring nightly.

Psiphon witnessed a surge in use from Gabon over this period. After the nearly 5-day long Internet shutdown was over, people in Gabon increasingly used Psiphon to access social media and news during the hours the Internet was available.

The trend to block social media and impose other restrictions online has spread to numerous governments in Africa over this past year, especially in times of political crisis. During such events, people find Psiphon circumvention tools to remain connected to their friends and family, as well as to access outside news.

Rights activists and organizations condemn the crackdown against those who protest in opposition to the president and called on the government to restore Internet services. A statement attributed to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon read, “I call on the government to immediately restore communications, especially the Internet, SMS and the independent radio and television.”