DRC orders social networks shut as Kabila's term expires
Friday December 16 2016
Authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have ordered that social networks including Facebook and WhatsApp be blocked soon before President Joseph Kabila's mandate expires, three internet providers said Thursday.
Congo's telecoms regulator issued an order, seen by AFP, demanding that providers cut access to social media services from 11:59pm (2259GMT) on Sunday.
Political tensions are running high in the country ahead of the constitutional end of President Joseph Kabila's second and final term on December 20. No elections have been organised and the opposition accuses him of seeking to retain power.
Under a controversial ruling from the Constitutional Court, president Kabila may remain in office beyond the end of his mandate.
The government order, seen by AFP and sent to at least three internet providers, will likely hamper the organisation of public protests against President Kabila.
The letter from Congo's Posts and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ARPTC) requires the "temporary blocking of sharing of images, video and voice (data) over the network" but gave no reason for the measure.
It gave a non-exhaustive list of platforms subject to the block that included Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Skype.
"In cases where partial blocking is not possible, you are required to block access to the relevant social networks entirely," it said.
Text messages will continue to function as normal.
The government's plan was first raised on Tuesday at a meeting of the ARPTC.
The president's opponents have warned of nationwide protests from Monday until he quits office, but rallies are on hold while the Roman Catholic Church mediates last-ditch negotiations to bring about a political transition towards elections.
Since 2013, hundreds of people have lost their lives in politically motivated urban violence in Kinshasa and several other towns. Social networks mobilise protest because they are easy to use on mobile phones and data costs are relatively low for the population of one of the world's poorest nations.
Telecommunications Minister Thomas Luhaka said by text message that he was "not informed" of such measures.
During violent riots in January 2015, the authorities ordered a total 48-hour shutdown of the internet, but the measure completely paralysed the economy, mainly because banks were unable to complete transactions.
"This time the authorities have learned the lesson," one operator said. "There won't be an internet blackout (causing) enormous harm in economic terms." (AFP)