Cameroonian journalist Richard Onanena’s recent trip to neighbouring Chad to cover the first round of elections on 10 April was a harrowing experience. Due to the restrictions on communications imposed by the government, he was unable to send messages or reach his colleagues at the BBC Africa service’s headquarters in Dakar. ‘On the morning of the election, I was supposed to send my report live from N’Djamena, but I couldn’t because of the blackout’. What’s more, Onanena says he was unable to reach his contacts in Chad to check what was happening at the various voting stations. ‘We moved blindly from one polling station to another without knowing what to expect,’ he told ISS Today. The shutting down of social media, messaging and mobile phone communications around the elections in Chad came in the wake of similar incidents in the Republic of Congo and Uganda, where governments also severely restricted access to communication networks during the recent elections. Election monitors and civil society organisations are increasingly concerned about this phenomenon, which signals a return to Cold War-era censorship and an attempt by governments to control the flow of information.
The Internet remained mysteriously cut in Chad’s capital on Monday a day after elections held amid tight security, which are expected to see President Idriss Deby extend his 26-year rule. Some foreign television media, who had worked until Sunday evening, were meanwhile unable to cover the post-election situation because they had not received authorisation from the communications ministry, by the middle of the day. Mobile Internet was suspended from Sunday morning, while fixed Internet went out in the evening in N’Djamena, and text messages could not be sent over the local phone network. The online blackout, which occurred without official explanation, was preventing discussion about how the election had gone. The situation was reminiscent of that in Congo, where authorities cut all communications — Internet, phone and texts — for four days for presidential elections on March 20.
Vote counting is underway in the Republic of Congo but information is scarce, as the government has blocked all phone and internet use in the country. President Denis Sassou Nguesso is widely expected to win another term in office. The Republic of Congo held elections Sunday cut off from the world. Hours before the vote, the government of the Central African nation called on phone and Internet carriers to shut down service for 48 hours. Amnesty International denounces the move. “Shutting down communication networks is unjustified and it’s an attack on media freedom. Authorities must ensure that everyone is able to carry out its work without fear, without harassment,” said Illaria Allegrozzi.
Fiji has imposed a strict media blackout on coverage of its first elections since the 2006 coup, warning that journalists face up to five years in jail if they do not comply. The blackout applies to political campaigning, interviews with candidates and election material such as posters or banners. It also prohibits discussion of this week’s vote on public forums including social media sites. Fiji’s elections supervisor Mohammed Saneem claimed the measure was intended to give the electorate a chance to reflect on how to vote in Wednesday’s poll without being bombarded by partisan messages intended to influence their decision. “The blackout is there to protect the voter from incessant campaigning before polling so that the voter can decide without any influence or undue pressure,” he told reporters. Campaign workers in Suva were today busy removing promotional material before the start of the blackout, which runs from 7.30am today (1930 GMT Sunday) to the close of polling at 6pm on Wednesday.