It has been more than a year since the Sudanese armed forces arrested a number of civilian officials in the government and the Transitional Council, including Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok and his wife in September 2021 before realizing him after a month. Demonstrations erupted soon after, demanding a return to the democratic path and the release of civilian detainees. In response, military coup authorities imposed an internet shutdown.

For several days, and in multiple forms, the people of Sudan experienced network disruptions and disconnection – a show of aggression by the military to Non-democratic regimes usually try to control citizens and obstruct their efforts to organize, express themselves, and access information by imposing the Internet shutdown. These shutdowns may be applied to a specific geographic area, or on targeted websites. 

Enforced internet shutdowns have become a common state tactic This is not the first time to happen in the region after the Egyptian and Syrian regimes used them widely when to curtail the Arab Spring. In Yemen, all warring parties have employed internet censorship tactics using internet shutdowns as the main tool to isolate the Yemeni civilians, causing grievous human rights violations. 

It is vital to understand that internet shutdowns come as one of the first steps authoritarian regimes use to suppress any movement against them. Although many states have articles in their laws or constitution to protect the freedom of expression, these shutdowns are often executive orders without legal basis. Often, authorities use ambiguous articles in contractual agreements with telecommunication companies to force arbitrary service outages.

Such repressive governments usually claim that these shutdowns are in favor of national security. In contrast, disinformation, violations of the right to communicate, and the obstruction of freedom of assembly, serve only to the benefit of tyrannical regimes who seek to violate local and international laws. 

At WITNESS, we believe that access to the Internet is a human right, one that is non-negotiable.

Strategies from the Sudanese Revolutionary Movement (hirak)

During the internet shutdown, Sudanese activists were still able to organize themselves using tools and methods WITNESS and our partners Sudanese Archive and The Sudanese Human Rights group – Hoqouq has advised. 

Takeaway:  hashtags can be a helpful method to unite and collect the data that comes from the field.

Activists were able to promote their protest on social media using main hashtags such as #الردة_مستحيلة and a new hashtag for every protest. This helped people find information and media, so the information and the media when it finds its way to social media even during the internet shutdown can be found in one united or semi-united place. 

Takeaway: Community activists who live abroad can be helpful to the struggle their communities at home are going through.

 Sudanese activists who live abroad played a very important role in these protests, on many occasions, they were the connection point between activists on the ground who lack internet access and the rest of the world who follow the news on social media websites. Traditional communication tools such as landline phones might have been used to get both sides connected even without internet access. 

Takeaway: Preparing is key to tackling internet shutdowns. 

This coup was sudden. It happened a few hours before sunrise. This purposeful suddenness is a part of the success model those who are behind the coup are hoping for. Preparing must be done when things are calm, or seem to be calm, so when sudden events occur and come along with an internet shutdown, activists can be ready, on any level, to confront, and tackle. 

Resources and Strategies from the Frontlines

In September 2021, WITNESS launched a gobal campaign aimed at sharing tips for documenting during internet shutdowns. -nd Because this practice is not new, we collaborated with partners and friends across the globe to synthesize knowledge from years of resistance. We then published resources in multiple languages and formats that activists can benefit from during an internet blockage

Tips for backing up material while offline 

See Tips for these apps to document while offline  

Tips to set up your phone for offline documentation

Tips for preserving verifiable media while offline 

Tips for file sharing and communication while offline

Advice on filming demonstrations 

A complete guide to preserving and making the most of your metadata. 

Guidance for filming a selfie video for human rights 

Tips for verifying images and videos  

As mentioned before, authoritarian regimes often use the same tactics. It may be informative to learn some of the tips that activists in Nigeria shared with us at the #EndSARS protests that erupted in October last year. 

Remember… safety and security (for yourself and others) always come first.

The struggle in Sudan is ongoing. We champion the people’s right to organize for freedom, justice, and democracy. 

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