Sierra Leone authorities must ensure an open and accessible internet at all times, especially during political instability.

On Wednesday, August 10, an anti-government protest erupted in Freetown, Sierra Leone, responding to the rising cost of living. The protest escalated quickly into violence with reports of an unspecified number of deaths including the police. During the protest, a nationwide internet shutdown was documented for nearly two hours from 12:00 to 14:00 local time.

“This outrageous trend of governments flipping the kill switch in times of protests is increasingly alarming and cannot be allowed to become the new norm,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now.

“Authorities in Sierra Leone must be held accountable for shutting down the internet to quell the ongoing protests in the country rather than trying to pass it off as suspiciously-timed ‘maintenance’ activities.”

Zoodlabs, which manages the government-owned optical fiber infrastructure company, Sierra Leone Cable, issued a public statement indicating the outage was due to emergency technical maintenance. However, there has been no public statement from the government on the interference at the time of this publication.

Internet shutdowns are strategically implemented by governments during protests to assert control over their citizens, provide cover for human rights violations, and obstruct media reporting. Authorities in Sierra Leone have a history of imposing internet shutdowns to assert political control.

In 2018, the authorities disrupted the internet during elections to interrupt the flow of information on election results. In 2022, “emergency maintenance” will not suffice as an excuse for a shutdown that coincides with human rights violations.

Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition call on authorities in Sierra Leone and across the region to refrain from imposing internet shutdowns during protests or other important national events such as elections.