A month ago, in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, the security forces wiped out the protest camp that was based near the military headquarters and that held dozens of protesters. The violent dispersion triggered the assassination of at least 100 people and injured more than 700 dissenters. The atrocity continued and official forces joined by paramilitary groups triggered a wave of violence in the city, that while trying to eradicate the presence of the opposition, massacred and raped hundreds of protesters. In the following hours and days, the Transitional Military Council, which has exercised control in the country since President Omar al-Bashir was removed from power on April 11th, enforced an internet blackout with the aim of controlling the flow of information and thus preventing the acknowledgement and response of the international community and other human rights bodies to the human rights violations that were happening. As a consequence, information from Sudan was hardly getting out and was primarily the Sudanese diaspora, through social media, that transmitted the news of the massacre. Although the information on Sudan is somehow obtainable today, the blackout in Sudan remains and the state repression over social movements demanding democracy is still severe and outrageous. During the “million-man march” last Sunday, 11 protesters were killed.
To authoritarian governments, controlling the Internet and communications within their borders as well as the information that reaches international attention is essential. Take the Arab Spring as an example, where Facebook, Twitter and YouTube played a crucial role in the events that led to the civic movement that attempted to break with repressive regimes, insufficient representative institutions, discrimination, corruption and more broadly with the traditional schemes involved in the exercise of power in North Africa and the Middle East. Although today the landscape of the Arab Spring is very different from that what was expected, back in the peak of the movement, President Ben Ali’s from Tunisia was ousted and a coalition government was created, in Egypt Hosni Mubarak suffered a similar aftermath making possible a parliamentary election and a constitutional referendum, and in Libya Muammar Gaddafi was assassinated. As the Internet became a powerful stimulant in the uprising of the Arab Spring, totalitarian regimes have chosen the path of devoting a great part of their resources to censor any dissent online activity.
As a catalyst, the Internet has also enabled the promotion of other human rights. The freedom of expression, for instance, has been strengthened as everyday citizens can publish, comment and broadcast events that due to their nature are impossible to inform in real time. Also, the possibility of creating web sites, blogs, and online posts have opened up a new set of possibilities where people can communicate, write and debate their positions on an innumerable quantity of subjects, including of course their own political views.
The freedom of press is another right empowered by the Internet. In Sudan, as many journalists and traditional media channels were banned by the authorities, the activists and the exiled population were the ones who informed the world what was happening in the African country. Freedom of association and the right of assembly are other rights that the Internet have promoted as it has created an extra space where people can meet and associate and where they can organize marches, sit-ins and other manifestations. Although a right to Internet access as an independent and autonomous right is still disputed, some States have issued legislation declaring the right to internet access as a human right. The French Constitutional Court declared that internet access must be protected under the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the Greek government incorporated in its Constitution the obligation of the State to guarantee a competent connection, and Finland, which has gone further has acknowledged that fast Internet is a fundamental right.
Despite the above, connectivity is still an issue. The availability of access, the restrictions and the market are only a few concerns. Sudan, according to the 2018 Freedom on the Net report, is not a free country and some of its biggest problems are related to access. The penetration of the Internet is only of %29.6 and mobile connectivity is the most popular, however, only 22 per cent of Khartoum inhabitants have a smartphone. Following the report, China, Iran and Syria, precisely some of the countries where democracy is non-existent or is extremely weak, take the first places of the most digital authoritarian nations.