Zimbabwe has entered day 7 of a social media blockade put in place by the government on 15 January 2019.
Government imposed the internet ban last Tuesday as part of its lethal response to the nationwide protest called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
Although internet access has been restored, popular social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube remain banned.
The blackout has left Zimbabweans disconnected from the world, particularly from the Zimbabwean diaspora. Independent YouTube news outlets, like Bustop TV and 263Chat have effectively been silenced.
Zimbabweans are relying on Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) such as Psiphon to access social media. The government has however made effort to also block some VPN services but this has not affected all of them.
Given the blocking of WhatsApp, Zimbabweans are using alternative apps, like Telegram, that haven’t been blocked, to message each other.
The Zimbabwean government ostensibly blocked internet access to prevent activists from organizing after thousands heeded a call from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
Senior opposition politicians and former cabinet ministers have accused the government of using an “unprecedented and illegal” internet shutdown imposed last week to hide the administration crimes against humanity.
Former education minister and opposition MDC politician David Coltart described the blockade as a “modern-day equivalent of the Nazi book burnings” of the 1930s.
Not even Robert Mugabe ever turned off the internet during his rule,” said Coltart in an article published at the weekend.
The ban was imposed because the “regime is fearful that the truth of what has actually happened in Zimbabwe since January 14 will be revealed,” said Coltart.
According to Coltart, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was determined to avoid a repeat of what happened with the August 1 post-election protests.
“When innocents were gunned down by the military on the streets of Harare on the 1 August 2018, the regime learnt the lesson that the internet instantly reports the truth and provides damning evidence against the perpetrators.
“They simply cannot allow that to happen again and so they have cut off the internet, or at least the parts of it which can instantly convey images of abuse to the world,” he said.
Today, the High Court will decide on whether the social media blockade is legal following an urgent chamber application by The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and The Zimbabwe Lawyers For Human Rights (ZLHR) made last week. The matter is set down for 1430hrs before Justice O.Tagu.