Senegal’s government temporarily blocked mobile phone data on Sunday, following days of fatal clashes between police and supporters of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko.
The spread of “subversive messages in a context of public disorder in certain localities,” the ministry of communication, telecoms, and digital economy announced that mobile internet data will be suspended during specific time periods.
The shutdown comes after days of fatal fighting between Sonko’s supporters and police across the West African country. The official death toll remains unknown. The government claims that 15 people have been killed, including two members of the security forces, while the opposition claims that 19 people have died.
The scuffles began on Thursday, after Sonko was convicted of influencing youngsters but acquitted of raping a massage parlour employee and threatening her with death.
Sonko came third in Senegal’s presidential election in 2019 and is popular among the country’s youth. His supporters believe that his legal problems are part of a government plot to torpedo his presidential candidature in 2024.
The international community has urged Senegal’s leadership to end the unrest. The government had already blocked access to several social media platforms, including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter, which it claimed were being used to instigate unrest.
The government stated at a news conference on Saturday evening that it will take all necessary measures to secure the country.
“I would like to reassure the Senegalese people that whatever attacks we have, the state will face them,” stated Interior Minister Antoine Felix Abdoulaye Diome.
Human rights organisations have criticised the government crackdown, which they claim has included arbitrary arrests.