Gabonese policemen speaks with residents in Libreville, Gabon following clashes.
Marco Longari / AFP / Getty Images
The small African nation of Gabon on Friday surpassed the 72-hour mark for no internet service as the government imposed a blackout on communications amid clashes between opposition protesters and security forces.
The government shut down the internet on Wednesday following the announcement that incumbent President Ali Bongo had won reelection by a slim margin. Gabon Telecom, the country's largest telecom company, shut down the internet at 9 p.m. local time, according to Doug Madory, the director of research at Dyn, an internet analytics firm.
“This is the longest country-wide blackout since Libya in 2011 during the Arab Spring,” Madory said.
With the internet still blocked throughout the country on Friday, United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on the Gabon government to lift the communication blackout.
“I call on the government to immediately restore communications, especially the internet, SMS, and the independent radio and television,” he said in a statement. “I am deeply concerned and saddened about the crisis in the Gabonese Republic provoked by the electoral crisis, in particular the arson attacks and disproportionate response of security agencies that has led to unfortunate loss of life and property.”
Gabon is the most recent country in Africa to resort to shutting down the internet amid political unrest. Ethiopia, Uganda, Chad, Burundi, and Republic of Congo have all limited internet access during local elections in recent years.
Over the last six months, Iraq has also shut down its internet country-wide three times to keep middle school students from cheating on tests; Algeria has shut down access to Facebook and Twitter to keep high school students from sharing stolen final exams; and India shut down the internet in its Jammu province due to a contentious wrestling match.
“Shutting down the internet around an election disrupts the most critical part of the democratic process. Time and again, we've seen that internet shutdowns serve as early warning mechanisms of human rights violations, and Gabon may prove no exception. Authorities in the country should turn the internet on as soon as possible,” said Deji Bryce Olukotun, Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Access Now.