(Ecofin Agency) - The United Nations now considers the Internet as a basic necessity in the same category as water and electricity. For some governments, the tool, which demonstrated its importance during the coronavirus pandemic, can become a threat to national security.
On the afternoon of Sunday, June 4, Senegal decided to “temporarily” suspend mobile Internet access. According to the Ministry of Communications and the Digital Economy, access is restricted during certain timeframes due to "the dissemination of hateful and subversive messages in a context where public order is disrupted in some areas.”
Since Thursday, May 1, riots have been taking place in several Senegalese towns. Thousands of young people have clashed with the police and gendarmerie to protest against the two-year prison sentence handed down to Ousmane Sonko, leader of the main opposition party (Pastef). The main opponent to President Macky Sall is considered by the Senegalese youth as the favorite for the February 2024 Presidential election. He was convicted for “perverting the youth” although he was brought before courts over rape and death threats charges.
For his sympathizers, the conviction which renders him ineligible for the upcoming election is a conspiracy to prevent him from running in an election in which he has a high chance of winning with flying colors.
VPNs can no longer be used to circumvent the measure
The temporary suspension affects 17,227,783 subscribers -per the latest figures from the national telecom regulator ARTP. This represents 96.78% of Internet users in Senegal, where the service is essential for cabs, delivery drivers, hairdressing salons, restaurants, online clothing stores, and so on.
In a press release, the association of ICT businesses called on the government to lift all the usage restrictions on instant messaging platforms to guarantee economic freedom since those tools are used by thousands of entrepreneurs to seek “life-saving incomes.”
The temporary mobile internet restriction comes two days after social media access was blocked in the country. The social media ban was issued to restrict the publication of mobilization calls and videos of clashes in several districts of Dakar, Ziguinchor, etc. The restrictions did not produce the desired effect, with most youth using VPNs to circumvent it.
On Friday, June 2, Proton VPN, a virtual private network service developed by Swiss company Proton Technologies AG, noted a huge 30,000% and counting increase in VPN registrations from Senegal.
"This is in line with what we've seen during unrest or geopolitical crises in recent years in Iran, Turkey, and even Russia. The figures we're seeing are comparable to those we saw in Senegal in March 2021. At that time, similar censorship led to a 20,000% increase in registrations," said the company.