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Zambia Restricts Internet, Social Media Access As Nation Conducts Tightly-Contested Presidential Election

FILE - Supporters of Zambian President Edgar Lungu react while supporters of Zambia's opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema, picket alongside Democratic Alliance (DA) members outside the High Commission of Zambia, in Pretoria, South Africa, Friday May 26,

An internet monitoring organization, Netblocks, claims that the internet is being restricted in Zambia during a highly-contested presidential election in the country, pitting incumbent president Edgar Lunga and his fiercest rival, Hakainde Hachilema.

In a tweet early Thursday when Zambians went to the polls, Netblocks said, “Confirmed: WhatsApp messaging app restricted in Zambia on election day; real-time network data show loss of service on multiple internet providers as polls get under way, corroborating widespread user reports; incident ongoing #ZambiaDecides2020.”

A few hours later, Netblocks said, “… Real-time network data confirm that social media and messaging platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Messenger are now restricted in #Zambia on election day in addition to the earlier WhatsApp restriction.”

In its Twitter handle, Netblocks says it tracks the disruption and shutdown of internet services and social media operations.

A team from the Media Institute of Southern Africa, which is observing the elections, confirmed that internet was down and access to social media platforms was being restricted.

Officials of the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority were unavailable for comment.

Vusumuzi Sifile Sibanda, executive director of a regional non-governmental organization, Panos Institute Southern Africa, said indications are that internet and access to social media platforms is being restricted in Zambia at a time locals are voting for a new president.

He said people are experiencing problems in accessing WhatsApp and Facebook “and the internet is very slow or inaccessible.”

He noted that there was no formal announcement by the government concerning the restrictions.

“For now people cannot access social media platforms using normal internet. So we are using VPNs … It’s a violation of the citizens right to seek, share and receive information through platforms or media of their choice. Today’s throttling of the internet mostly affected social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, which are now the primary source of information for the majority of citizens. We do not know yet why the internet was shut down, but whatever the reasons, this will have far reaching negative implications on citizens.”

According to the Lusaka Times, Zambia’s information secretary, Amos Malupenga, warned that the country won’t hesitate to shutdown the internet if it was being abused by some people when voting starts until the end of the whole electoral process relating to this year’s presidential election.

Freedom House says many nations normally restrict access to social media platforms and block the internet during elections, much to the chagrin of locals.

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