Sierra Leone and Somaliland restrict internet access during protests


According to internet monitoring organisation NetBlocks, Sierra Leone and Somaliland experienced significant internet service disruptions recently.

On Wednesday last week, national connectivity was observed at just 5% of regular levels in Sierra Leone.

Somaliland experienced significant disruptions across multiple providers from the early morning of Thursday.

According to cyber security company Surfshark, both incidents happened during protests, making Sierra Leone and Somaliland Africa’s 19th and 20th states to restrict the internet for that reason.

“Internet access is vital in times of unrest, and these disruptions mark an unfortunate decline in the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Metrics show that the internet incident in Sierra Leone has had nationwide impact and is likely to significantly limit the free flow of information,” – says Alp Toker, the director and founder of NetBlocks.

The disruptions in Sierra Leone came into effect across multiple providers on the morning of August 10 and lasted approximately two hours, and occurred again overnight as authorities imposed a curfew on residents.

National connectivity was observed at just 5% of ordinary levels, impacting most internet users in Sierra Leone and limiting coverage of protests and clashes between the police and protesters in the capital city of Freetown and other areas.

The next morning, multiple providers in Somaliland experienced major disruptions to internet services.

The disruptions came as protesters clashed over the postponed elections, making Somaliland the 4th African and 8th state worldwide to restrict internet access this year.

Restricting social media or overall internet access is common in African countries, especially during political events – elections, protests, or demonstrations.

According to Surfshark’s study, Africa has had 88 internet restriction cases since 2015:38 happened because of protests, and two countries have permanently banned popular social media or voice-over IP (VoIP) apps.

Moreover, Africa was the most censored region worldwide in 2020 and 2021.

But this year, Asia takes the lead as it is responsible for 89% of the global internet restriction cases. In the first half of 2022 alone, Surfshark registered 72 incidents, affecting approximately 1.89 billion people worldwide.

According to the Surfshark study, in 2022’H1, there were 66 internet blackouts in six countries and territories: Burkina Faso, India, Jammu and Kashmir, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Sudan.

The internet was restricted locally in three countries and territories – India, the Jammu and Kashmir region, and Pakistan. The other three countries – Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, and Sudan – chose to cut the internet connections down nationwide, even though it cripples the economy the most.

Meanwhile, social media censorship cases are spreading through all continents.

In the first half of 2022, Surfshark recorded six incidents in five countries: Brazil, Burkina Faso, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe have all shut their social media down once, and Russia twice.

The most common reasons for censorship were political turmoil and protests.

In the first half of 2022, the most commonly restricted social media app was Facebook.

46% of the global population has been affected by government-imposed Facebook restrictions over the past seven years.

Twitter and WhatsApp follow the app, the latter being the most censored VoIP app. Governments also targeted Instagram, Telegram, and YouTube.

The research tracks partial and complete internet and social media disruptions in 193 UN countries from 2015 to now.

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