Burundian Government Shuts Down Social Media Amid Elections
As elections in Burundi continue despite the coronavirus outbreak, reports confirm that the government has shut down access to WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.
Burundi has kicked of its scheduled national elections today despite the potential health concerns amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. However, while criticism of the decision to go ahead with elections continues, the government is now being condemned for shutting down all access to social media platforms. The BBC confirms that WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook are not accessible without the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that conceal the identity of the user.
Over the past few months, massive political rallies have been held across Burundi in the build-up to today's elections. The ruling CNDD-FDD party led by President Pierre Nkurunziza has been going head-to-head with the main opposition, the National Congress for Liberty in a bid to retain power.
However, as reported in our previous coverage, there have been considerable safety concerns based on reports of documented violence by security officials. Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) says, "These elections will be accompanied by more abuses, as Burundian officials and members of the Imbonerakure are using violence with near-total impunity to allow the ruling party to entrench its hold on power."
The Burundian government has not yet officially responded to the partial internet shutdown. Human rights groups have warned that a partial internet shutdown will prevent the opposition from flagging electoral irregularities as well as maintaining transparency during the election process itself.
Burundi and several other African countries including Egypt, Zimbabwe, Benin and Ethiopia have been known to enforce internet shutdowns in the past particularly during elections and times of mass demonstrations.
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