Sudan government shuts off internet ahead of anti-coup protest

Sudan’s government has shut off the internet across the country ahead of massive protests organized to pressure the military into handing power back to civilian leaders.

Several organizations monitoring internet access across the world confirmed that the internet was severely limited on Thursday morning.

Alp Toker, director of NetBlocks, told The Record that a shutdown order was circulated on Wednesday in anticipation of demonstrations and by Thursday morning, the organization was registering disruptions in connectivity. 

The shutdowns were in full force by 8 am local time on Thursday, Toker said. 

“[This] has become standard procedure by the post-coup authorities in anticipation of demonstration days — the procedure is straight out of the authoritarian playbook,” Toker explained. 

“The shutdown has nation-scale impact and covers both fixed-line and cellular services. While impact isn’t total, the vast majority of users have been sent offline.”

Toker noted that circumvention through the use of VPNs isn’t generally possible in this instance and added that both mobile and fixed-line service have also been targeted, “making it one of the more severe incidents we have tracked.” 

Kanartel and even the state operator Sudatel were being disrupted “in a pattern consistent with an intentional disruption to service, corroborating user reports of outages in multiple cities.”

As of Thursday morning, connectivity nationally is 17% of what it is normally, according to NetBlocks data. The outages will limit the ability of activists and journalists to cover the protests. 

⚠️ Confirmed: Real-time network data show internet access has been disrupted across #Sudan after 8 am local time, leaving users offline amid anti-junta protests and renewed calls for a civilian-led government; incident ongoing #June30March


— NetBlocks (@netblocks) June 30, 2022

“This has the effect of largely silencing Sudan’s population at a critical moment for the pro-democracy movement,” Toker said. 

“The incident contrasts with other recent partial shutdowns that have only targeted mobile communications such as the mid-June exam shutdowns, indicating that Sudan’s unelected leadership are taking the 30 June protests seriously.”

Sudan’s government did not respond to requests for comment. The country was transitioning to democracy after ousting long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019. But in October, the military staged a coup against the burgeoning civilian government. 

A report from Access Now, a nonprofit tracking internet access globally, found that Sudan has repeatedly shut down the internet in response to protest movements, throttling the internet at least 5 times in 2021.

Protests have occurred almost daily since the coup and hundreds have been killed by military forces, according to The Associated Press

Several groups involved in organizing the protests took to social media to condemn the outages and said it was an explicit attempt to disrupt the protests. 

The Sudanese Engineers Syndicate, a founding member of the Sudanese Professionals Association, said the “coup authorities” were attempting to “cover up the expected crimes against the peaceful revolutionaries, which indicates that they intend to commit violence to suppress peaceful protest, and cover up the crimes of its repressive agencies.”

“They cut off the internet and communication during and after they committed the massacre of the General Command on June 3, 2019 to cover up its heinous crime, then followed it by completely and partially cutting off communication services and the Internet for more than twenty consecutive days immediately after the military coup on October 25, 2021,” the organization said on Twitter. 

“The cutting off of internet and communication services in Sudan has become a pattern and led to many violations.”

النوايا السيئة بارتكاب العنف وقمع الاحتجاج السلمي والتستر على جرائم أجهزتها القمعية. ويأتي ذلك في ظل تكرار لجرائم العسكر الانقلابيين في ذات الشأن حيث قاموا بقطع خدمة الإنترنت والاتصال أثناء وبعد قيامهم بارتكاب مجزرة القيادة العامة في 3 يونيو 2019م للتغطية على جريمتها البشعة،

— مبادرة استعادة نقابة المهندسين (@SudaneseEngine1) June 29, 2022

The group went on to criticize not just the effect of the outages on the protest and the ability to cover potential human rights violations but also the effect on businesses’ ability to operate. 

They called on the United Nations and other human rights organizations to step in and help protect the country’s access to the internet. 

“The interruption of Internet and communications services has clearly and tangibly affected and threatened the lives of many people and contributed to the loss of many lives due to the denial of access to health and treatment information and public services related to their livelihood and life,” the group said. 

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