Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the Internet shutdowns in Benin on 28 April that obstructed the free flow of news and information during a parliamentary election with a very low turnout. At first access to social networks was badly disrupted and then it was disconnected altogether.
Connections were initially cut by two telecom operators during much of the day. But, according to the information obtained by RSF, the authorities then realized that VPN apps were being used to circumvent the restrictions and, at around 18:00 GMT, they decided to disconnect the Internet altogether, depriving citizens of the ability to follow reports about the progress of the polling. Thereafter, the Internet connection was not restored until late during the night.
“Cutting the Internet and restricting access to social networks violated the right of Benin’s citizens to diverse sources of news and information,” said Assane Diagne, the head of RSF’s West Africa office. “Internet access has been recognized as a basic right by the United Nations since 2012. This form of censorship is particularly deplorable on an election day, when the public has an ever greater need for news and information than usual.”
When RSF contacted the president’s press office and the Electronic Communications and Postal Regulator Agency (ARCEP-Benin) about the decision to disconnect the Internet, no one wanted to comment.
RSF is a member of #KeepItOn, a coalition of around 190 organizations from more than 60 countries that send a joint message to ARCEP-Benin on 29 April asking it to stop blocking the Internet.
Benin is ranked 96th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, 12 places lower than in 2018.