In Sudan, Internet users find ways to beat blackout

1 / 3
A Sudanese man uses his smart-phone to access the Internet at a cafe in which an hour of Internet costs 50 Sudanese pounds, which is approximately one US dollar, on June 17, 2019 in an upscale Khartoum district. (AFP/Yasuyoshi Chiba)
2 / 3
Palestinian students use their phones to access the internet at a cafe, following a nation-wide mobile internet blackout, in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on June 17, 2019. (AFP/Yasuyoshi Chiba)
3 / 3
A Sudanese woman works at a travel agency in Khartoum on June 17, 2019 as businesses struggle to keep their services going after being hit by an Internet blackout. (AFP/Yasuyoshi Chiba)
Updated 20 June 2019
0

In Sudan, Internet users find ways to beat blackout

  • Even routine activities like checking social media or booking a taxi through an online app has now become nearly impossible
  • Generally across Sudan, the Internet is now accessible only through land telephone lines or fiber optic cables, and the connection is erratic

KHARTOUM: In a lush garden cafe in Sudan’s capital, a group of youngsters sit eyes glued to mobile phone screens, seeking ways to bypass an Internet blackout imposed by army rulers.
“It’s as if we have gone back in time — we are cut off from everything, even from the outside world,” said Mohamed Omar, 25, sitting around a wooden table with his friends at the cafe in an upscale Khartoum district.
“Internet is what allows us to know what’s happening inside the country and outside.”
Internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections has been widely cut across Sudan since the violent dispersal of a protest camp outside army headquarters on June 3 that left dozens dead and hundreds wounded.
The ruling military council imposed the blackout to prevent further mobilization of protesters, according to users.
“They cut the Internet so that people can not communicate, to prevent (them from) gathering,” said Omar, who has regularly attended the protests that rocked Khartoum for months.
Initial protests were sparked by a tripling of bread prices in December, and led to the downfall of long-time president Omar Al-Bashir on April 11.
But the protesters did not stop there, quickly demanding that the military council that seized power hand over to civilian rule.
Even routine activities like checking social media or booking a taxi through an online app has now become nearly impossible.
“My parents live abroad, the Internet was our only means of communication,” said Omar, sporting a neat goatee and an elegant knee-length truffle grey tunic.
“Before, we could see each other by video, now I have to (make an international) call,” he added.
At the cafe, some sat around wooden tables, while others typed on their phones and some browsed on their laptops.
Here, an hour of Internet costs 50 Sudanese pounds, which is approximately one dollar.
Generally across Sudan, the Internet is now accessible only through land telephone lines or fiber optic cables, and the connection is erratic.
In one Khartoum mall, customers swarm several mobile shops and cybercafes that offer rare access.
At the shops’ entrances, men and women — sitting, standing or leaning against the walls — have their eyes fixed to their mobile phones.
“Cutting the Internet is one of the means by the military council to widen the gap between (the protest movement) and the people,” prominent protest leader Mohamed Naji Al-Assam told reporters this week.
The impact of the blackout was felt Tuesday night when few came out onto the streets, even as protest leaders called for new night-time demonstrations.
Human Rights Watch slammed the blackout as a “gross violation.”
“Governments that seek to repress peaceful political opposition have in many instances cut off Internet access during times of political sensitivity and crisis,” the rights group said in a report on June 12.
For the generals the Internet and social media are a threat.
“Regarding social media, we see during this period that it represents a threat for the security of the country and we will not allow that,” military council spokesman General Shamseddine Kabbashi told reporters last week.
And on Wednesday, the authorities prevented a consumer protection association from holding a press conference on the Internet blackout.
Businesses, hit by the blackout, are struggling to keep their services going.
Kamal, an employee of an international travel agency, said his company — which regularly books tickets for embassies and UN agencies — has been forced to make bookings through phone calls and text messages, because they can’t access the Internet.
“We get calls from our clients, then we call our back office in Nairobi. It is they who book the ticket and text us the ticket number,” he said.
“We forward the ticket number to the client, who then goes to the airport to take the boarding pass from the airport counter itself.”
“If a ticket needs to be modified, we used to do it from our system itself... but now we (have to) send people to the airline office.”
Other Sudanese travel agencies were shut for several days this month after protest leaders launched a civil disobedience movement, in the wake of the crackdown on protesters.
“Earlier, four, five, six or seven tickets could be booked in one day, but now it takes four days to book just one ticket,” said travel agent Hoiam, whose agency was shut during the disobedience campaign.
The main factor was the “very poor” Internet connection at her office, she said.
The Internet blackout has been imposed by the generals “to put an end to the revolution,” she said.
“But still, with or without Internet, people manage to communicate.”


Internet a lifeline for Venezuela’s embattled independent media

In this file photo taken on June 13, 2019 A journalist works in one of the newsrooms of the Panorama newspaper in Maracaibo, Venezuela. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2019
0

Internet a lifeline for Venezuela’s embattled independent media

  • Regional newspaper Panorama, which served Venezuela’s second city Maracaibo, struggled on until May 14 when “a perfect storm” of massive power cuts finally sounded it’s physical death knell

CARACAS: Starved of advertising revenue and battling a stranglehold on the newspaper industry by the government, Venezuela’s independent media have been decimated by the country’s years-long crisis — with many migrating online to survive.
“It was a course we couldn’t get away from,” Jorge Makriniotis, manager at the 75-year-old El Nacional, told AFP.
The newspaper ran its last physical edition — which had already dropped from 72 to just 16 pages — on December 13 last year.
Like many other former print media, it is only available on the Internet now.
In 2013, Venezuela’s socialist government created a state-run company to control the import and distribution of paper.
Carlos Correa, director of the Espacio Publico non-governmental organization, said the move created “discriminatory dynamics” that saw pro-regime media favored — while others were starved of printing paper, and advertising revenue.
Since then, 58 daily newspapers have ceased circulation, Correa says.
“There’s never been an official response” to the claims from independent media, said Gisela Carmona, the director of El Impulso — one of the papers that has migrated online, requiring an investment of more than a million dollars.
After 100 years in print, the newspaper disappeared from the streets in February 2018, having received no paper for 12 months.

Beyond controlling paper supply, critics accuse the Venezuelan government of oppressing dissenting media voices across the board.
The national union of press workers has denounced a “systematic policy” of asphyxiation as dozens of independent radio and television stations also closed.
“Over the past years, the Government has attempted to impose a communicational hegemony by enforcing its own version of events and creating an environment that curtails independent media,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a report on Venezuela earlier this month.
One example from 2018 saw El Nacional lose a case brought by Diosdado Cabello, widely regarded as the most powerful regime figure after President Nicolas Maduro, for having published drug-trafficking allegations made against him in the Spanish press.
The economic crisis had a major impact on the media too, as on all businesses.
Five years of recession and rampant hyperinflation — which the International Monetary Fund expects to reach a staggering 10 million percent this year — have decimated advertising revenues.
Carminda Marquez opened a kiosk in Caracas 18 years, selling dozens of newspapers and other publications.
“Now I sell three or four,” said the 80-year-old.
Regional newspaper Panorama, which served Venezuela’s second city Maracaibo, struggled on until May 14 when “a perfect storm” of massive power cuts finally sounded it’s physical death knell, its editorial director Maria Ines Delgado told AFP.
Panorama never had to lay off any journalists as one by one they resigned and left for foreign shores.
“Every time we replaced one, another left,” Delgado said from a near-empty editorial room.
Like El Impulso, Panorama is now fed by banner advertising.

The move online has not solved independent media’s myriad problems, though, least of all the ability to reach readers.
Between frequent power outages, patchy Internet and the second slowest connectivity in Latin America — after landlocked Paraguay — readers have trouble loading pages, especially on smartphones.
“We know nothing any more,” complained Belkis Nava, who used to read Panorama.
Despite the difficulties, some journalists have launched new media directly on the Internet, such as El Pitazo.
Specializing in investigative journalism — it won the prestigious Ortega y Gasset prize awarded by Spanish newspaper El Pais this year — El Pitazo supported itself through a 2017 crowdfunding campaign, director Cesar Batiz told AFP.
However, like other news websites, El Pitazo has come under cyberattack — four times over two years.
Before the first attack in 2017, El Pitazo had 110,000 visits a day. Traffic has since dropped by more than half, and 65 percent of that comes from abroad.
“People aren’t receiving information,” said Melanio Escobar, the director of the Redes Ayuda (Network Help) NGO.