For more than three months, it has been difficult to connect to social media sites in Chad. A few regular Internet users say they have been able to circumvent the restrictions through applications, but many have cried foul over what they see as a government crackdown on freedom of expression.
Critics say the move is a deliberate attempt by the administration of longtime President Idriss Deby to restrict the sharing of information about two key issues: the rape of a young girl that gained international attention and Chad’s recent elections.
“If this isn’t connected to politics, tell us clearly what it is,” one Internet user in Chad told VOA. “In my opinion, the government fears that these networks will be used to mobilize a demonstration against the electoral holdup; it must be linked to politics.”
Crackdown on Internet, social media
The Chadian government has not made any statements on the matter. VOA tried to contact the minister of communication for this story, but he declined to comment.
In February, news surfaced that an 18-year-old girl, Zouhoura Ibrahim, was kidnapped and gang-raped on camera as she pleaded for help. The incident galvanized public outrage on social media and protesters took to the streets demanding accountability. Some of the alleged rape perpetrators were said to be sons of government officials. Social media access was interrupted, according to reports.
Then, a few days before the inauguration of Deby and following a contentious presidential election held on April 10, 2016, Internet users again complained that they were unable to connect to sites like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, or Viber.
The development angered many Chadians who count on the Internet to stay in touch with relatives and friends around the world.
“We cannot understand why, in the 21st century, that Chadians would be the only ones on the planet denied access to knowledge, as is the case with the access to social networks, which allow people to communicate,” says Daouda El-Hadj Adam, secretary-general of Chad’s Association for the Defense of Consumer Rights.
Users want access
El-Hadj Adam also said that if it is not the government blocking access, then it should prosecute the telecommunications companies for not doing their jobs and taking money from customers without providing appropriate services.
Tidjani Mahmat Guinassou, director of communications for the Chadian Internet-Governance Forum, said it is time for the government to clarify the situation and explain what is happening in order to calm rising frustration.
“In matters of technology, you can always put in place measures and people will find a way to get around them,” Guinassou said. “I think the best policy is to use technology against opponents and not to prevent certain people from accessing it,” he said.
Internet users in the country are running out of patience. “In a country that calls itself a country of rights, you can’t violate the rights of an individual. You must open the social networks to allow young Chadians to communicate with young people all over the world,” a young Chadian told VOA.