Internet Censorship Update – Uganda, India, Vietnam

Governments around the world are known to censor the Internet in different ways for political reasons. This month we present three countries – Uganda, India, and Vietnam – that have restricted the public’s access to social media and the Internet in general. Their reasons vary, but a clear pattern of control is revealed in these efforts to silence free speech. We reported on the Ugandan social media block that happened in February, but we have a few updates on that as well as new censorship in India and Vietnam.

Social Media Blackout for Ugandan Elections

On February 18th we wrote about how the Ugandan government had ordered social media platforms and money services blocked for the duration of the election period in the country. Affected social media sites included Facebook and Twitter, and messaging apps like WhatsApp were also reported blocked. These sites were blocked again in time for the official swearing in of President Yoweri Museveni on May 12, which will be his 7th term. Live television broadcasts and radio programs that were covering the election period news were also blocked.

This is after human rights group Access Now had already appealed to the United Nations to intervene in the matter. The UN is tasked with the preservation of human rights, and this is a clear violation of the people’s rights to express themselves about what is going on in their country at such an important time as this. Ugandans were even more upset about this round of social media blocks, not only because it happened again on election day but because the opposition is crying foul and the people are being blocked from talking about the rigged election. The people are not happy with the results of the election, and their continual protests are on social media.

Internet Access Blocked Amid Azamgarh Rioting

On May 17th, reports came in that the Indian government had blocked Internet access to the city of Azamgarh after riots broke out. Azamgarh is in the Uttar Pradesh state, where the first riots began on the 15th. The rioting was the result of social tensions among different communities in the city, and the government said that it blocked Internet access for 72 hours to prevent rumors from spreading. We cannot see, however, how restricting Internet access to control communications is the right way to deal with social upheaval.

It is a right of the people to be informed about problems that are happening near them, and blocking Internet access will prevent the news from getting around. There is always a risk that what people will read online will not be accurate – clouded by emotions and personal perspectives – but they have the right to access this information nonetheless. They also have the right to watch video footage that no one else but individuals on the scene are in a position to take, and to form their own opinions about the events that are unfolding. Restricting Internet access blocks the people who are involved in the conflict from speaking out and sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Azamgarh has not experienced state Internet censorship before, but there are cases of government blocks being ordered during similar conflicts in other areas of the subcontinent. In the past 3 years, Internet blocks have been reported in Gujarat, Harayana, Jammu, Jharkhand, Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, and Rajasthan. These blocks were ordered when law enforcement was unable to handle situations that turned violent. India is not one of the worst offenders when it comes to Internet censorship, but the government is allowed by law to block access to websites and other online content.

Social Media Sites Blocked Due to Protests in Vietnam

On the same day, May 17, reports also came in about the social media blocks in Vietnam that were active over the weekend. The Internet in Vietnam is managed by government-controlled service providers, and these telecoms were told to cut off access to sites like Facebook and Instagram after protests that broke out over a serious fishing issue in a very poor region of the country. For 2 consecutive weekends before the block was ordered, there were protests in this central coastal region regarding the possible environmental hazard that caused the death of a hundred tons of fish in April.

The government did not want the protesters to be able to call in more support for their cause, so they blocked the affected websites. Social media is often used to share information about such events that are not fully covered by the media. Rallying and other forms of organized protest are frowned upon by the current administration in Vietnam. Internet censorship is common, ordered by the restrictive government to maintain control over the flow of information there. More bloggers are jailed in Vietnam for sharing information than just about anywhere else in the world. Many people in Vietnam want to share their opinions because the media only reflects what the government wants the people to know, and social media is their best avenue for doing so.

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