Friday, 22 September 2017

Togo shuts down internet to gag anti-government protests

The internet has been intermittent in Togo with the government blocking access to social media networks and shutting down mobile messaging.

The slowdown started on Tuesday night (Sept. 19) after opposition members boycotted a parliamentary session that proposed changes to presidential term limits and called for protests on Wednesday and Thursday.

Anti-government protests have spread across Togo in recent weeks calling for president Faure Gnassingbé to step down and allow constitutional reforms.

Gnassingbé took power in 2005, succeeding his father, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who ruled the west African nation for 38 years. Police have used force against protesters, and one child was reported dead in the ensuing clashes.

Emmanuel Agbenonwossi, an internet policy researcher in the capital Lomé, said WhatsApp was blocked on all mobile networks. Most users, he said, were using virtual private networks (VPN) like Turbo and Cyberghost to circumvent the block and stay connected. Agbenonwossi noted the block was most likely linked to the protests and that neither the government nor telecom companies have provided an explanation as to the reduced bandwidth or SMS block.

“People use WhatsApp to share images as long as the protests are going on,” Agbenonwossi said.

The shutdown has cost the country an estimated $1.8 million dollars, according to the digital rights advocacy group, Access Now.

To protest the shutdown, social media users have been using hashtags like #TogoDebout (stand up Togo) and also #AskCina, in reference to Cina Lawson, the minister of posts and digital economy in Togo.

Agbenonwossi said the slowed connection is inconveniencing users and is contributing to the rising tensions in the country. “We don’t know what they [the government] want and they are not accountable to anybody,” he said. “The whole system is a mess right now.”

Source: Reuters/Noel Kokou Tadegnon

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