Cameroon Pressures Mobile Operators to Shut Down Internet

Reports state that for over a week now, the northwest and southwest regions of Cameroon have not had any access to the internet which appear to have been cut in the major towns of the country’s two English-speaking regions. But details surrounding the internet shutdown continue to emerge slowly, showing a government intent on controlling access, operators pressured to cut connections, and observers worried about censorship and surveillance.

The internet outage and subsequent block marked the culmination of months of protests against the dominance of French-language use in the bilingual country. The demonstrations reached a new peak in early January when protestors stayed at home to strike against government marginalization. On Jan. 17, after two days of riots and stay-away by teachers and lawyers, Akamai, the US-based internet content delivery company reported sharp drops in internet connectivity in the central African country.

Cameroonian authorities were also able to shut down the internet because the government-owned CAMTEL operates the fiber optic backbone that provides internet to the country. Owono says the government was able to shut down the internet to specific regions by disconnecting them from the national or global area network using third party software.

A widely-circulated letter online from the director of the country’s national telecommunications company, CAMTEL, also seems to confirm some of the concerns from the operators. In the letter to the minister for post and telecommunications, authorities at CAMTEL say they took measures on Jan. 17 and 18 to “coercively enforce your mentioned instructions” to suspend internet services “in certain sensitive regions.”

More reportage on QZ and VOA

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