By Biodun Busari
Senegal’s government has disconnected access to mobile internet services in certain areas as riots rocked the country over the sentencing of the popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko to two years in jail.
A statement from the government on Sunday said there was deadly rioting in which “hateful and subversive” messages have been posted online, hence, the need to cut internet services.
According to Reuters, Senegal has been hit by three days of violent protests in which 16 people have died, one of its deadliest bouts of civil unrest in decades.
Last week, the government limited access to certain messaging platforms, but many people were able to bypass the outage with the use of virtual private networks that hide the location of the user.
It extended the outage on Sunday to include all data on mobile internet devices in certain areas and at certain times, the statement said.
The message, however, did not reveal the areas that were affected or at what times, but residents across Dakar said they were unable to access the Internet without a wifi connection on Sunday afternoon, a time of day when protests have generally started to gather steam.
“Because of the spread of hateful and subversive messages…mobile Internet is temporarily suspended at certain hours of the day,” the statement said.
On Thursday, Sonko was sentenced on Thursday and the jail term if upheld could prevent him from running in the February presidential election, and this has resulted in violence.
Protesters have also been angered by President Macky Sall’s refusal to rule out running for a third term. Senegal has a two-term presidential limit.
Internet cuts to stifle dissent are common in Africa and date back to the 2011 Arab Spring when rulers in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya sought to control the spread of information. Since then Gabon, Gambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and others have done the same at times of instability.