Sudan’s Bad Laws, Internet Censorship and Repressed Civil Liberties

By Khattab Hamad and CIPESA Writer | 

On December 19, 2021, the third anniversary of the start of the uprising that overthrew former Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir, protests against the current military rulers rocked the capital Khartoum. Yet these demonstrations are only a small part of the north African country’s challenges, as it remains saddled with a slew of repressive laws that undermine civil liberties, with the digital civic space particularly under attack.

Sudan’s 2019 constitution grants citizens the right to privacy (article 55) and to free expression (article 57) and “the right to access the internet” (article 57(2)). As of December 2020, Sudan had 34.2 million mobile subscriptions while internet subscriptions stood at 13.7 million, representing a penetration of 31%. Sudan has the most affordable mobile internet in Africa and is ranked among the five least expensive countries for mobile internet globally.

Despite the constitutional guarantees and proliferation of technology, a new briefing paper by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) shows that the state of digital rights remains precarious, with the cybercrimes law enabling the military rulers to harass dissenters and critics under the guise of fighting false information online. 

Frequent internet shutdowns remain a constant reminder that the government will go to great lengths to control access to and use of digital technologies for mobilisation. In the last three years, six internet disruptions have been recorded, mostly ordered to thwart public protests against bad governance. The disruptions have had significant economic implications and only ended following the intervention of the courts. 

The brief explores the repressive elements of media and technology-related laws and how they have been used to undermine freedom of expression, access to information and press freedom in the aftermath of al-Bashir’s overthrow. Overall, while there have been some improvements since al-Bashir’s ouster, the current government continues to institute regressive measures such as news website blockages and censorship. The latest power machinations that saw the military stage a coup on October 25, 2021 are making matters worse. 

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), which spearheaded the uprising that overthrew al-Bashir, extensively used digital technologies to disseminate news about the uprising and to mobilise citizens to attend protests. The military rulers that succeeded Bashir seem to have realised the power of technology in mobilisation and embarked on continuous disruption of the internet, in addition to instituting other measures to curtail online organising, freedom of expression, and the free flow of information online.

Bashir’s dictatorship initiated internet disruptions in view of public protests calling for his overthrow, but the government that succeeded him has been more prolific in utilising shutdowns to try and shut off criticism and protests. 

The longest internet disruption in Sudan’s history was recorded in 2019 and lasted 37 days. During protests around the time the shutdown was initiated, more than 100 protesters were killed. The latest shutdown started on October 25, 2021 and lasted 25 days. It was instituted after Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan seized control of the government. The shutdown was ended by a court order on November 11.

In July 2021, Sudanese authorities blocked more than 30 local news websites in the run up to protests demanding the resignation of the government, a move that severely undermined the right to expression and access to information.

Meanwhile, the cybercrime law of 2020 punishes publishing “lies” and “fake news” online with a heavy penalty of four years imprisonment, or flogging, or both. This law has been used by the military to silence activists and critical state officials. Even Lt. Gen. Burhan has this year invoked it to bring a suit against a prominent critic. The Press and Publications Law of 2009 equally has repressive provisions and was last August controversially invoked to suspendAlitibaha and Alsayha newspapers.

In 2020, Sudan issued the National security law amendment of 2020, article 25 of which leaves latitude for staff of intelligence agencies to violate citizens’ privacy by giving the Sudanese General Intelligence Service “the right to request information, data, documents or things from anyone to check it or take it” without a court order. Last October, military forces that staged a coup appeared to use this provision to search people’s phones in the streets to delete documentation of human rights violations perpetuated by security forces.

See the policy brief for further details on Sudan’s Bad Laws, Internet Censorship and Repressed Civil Liberties.

Will Our Human Rights and Freedoms and a Free and Open Internet be the Next Victims of Cybercrime?

Manifesto Launch |

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) has joined civil society organisations and industry in a rally against the potential threat of cybercrime on human rights and freedoms as well as the open internet.

Day-by-day the effects of cybercrime continue to get worse. Although something clearly needs to be done, there is growing concern that any efforts to tackle this modern scourge come at the expense of fundamental human rights and that they threaten the open and free internet.

As countries are considering their input to the United Nations ahead of the scheduled January negotiations on a Cybercrime Convention, the CyberPeace Institute and the Cybersecurity Tech Accord have brought together a range of stakeholders to publish the Multistakeholder Manifesto on Cybercrime. The principles outlined in the Manifesto should be at the heart of any cybercrime legislation and to guide the negotiating process.

The Manifesto is supported by over 50 members of civil society, industry organizations (such as the Center for Democracy and Technology, World Wide Web Foundation, Cyber Threat Alliance, and Derechos Digitales) and individuals. Signatories to the Manifesto want to also ensure that any cybercrime convention preserves and upholds basic human rights and freedoms guaranteed under existing international UN and other treaties.

“Today, industry and civil society are coming together through a Multi-Stakeholder Manifesto on Cybercrime which provides a set of principles to guide governments in their negotiations at the United Nations” says Klara Jordan, Chief Policy Officer at the CyberPeace Institute. 

In the build up to the convention negotiations, this Manifesto is an urgent appeal to all UN member states, UN agencies, and others involved in the current process, to address concerns regarding the draft and align their submissions with the Manifesto.

The Manifesto also highlights the importance of ensuring cybercrime perpetrators are held accountable for their actions: “In an area as opaque as cyberspace, public-private partnerships are often an indispensable tool to gain insights into evolving cyber threats and those behind them,” said Annalaura Gallo, Head of Secretariat, Cybersecurity Tech Accord. “A new Cybercrime Convention should establish clear mechanisms for states to reduce the operating space for criminals,” added Annalaura Gallo

The Manifesto also tackles the challenges inherent in the current UN process, in particular the lack of multistakeholder participation. “We are concerned about the lack of consultation, inclusion and involvement of stakeholders from across civil society and industry”, said Klara Jordan, adding: “The participation of civil society entities is crucial to ensure that the impact of these crimes on society is properly taken into account.” “The technology industry is ready to offer its expertise and input to UN states in the upcoming negotiations on cybercrime. We hope that our input will be sought more consistently than has been the case in the past in discussions involving the security of our internet ecosystem,” emphasized Annalaura Gallo.


About the CyberPeace Institute: Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the CyberPeace Institute is a nongovernmental organization whose mission is to reduce the harms from cyberattacks on people’s lives worldwide, provide assistance to vulnerable communities and call for responsible cyber behaviour, accountability and cyberpeace.

About the Cybersecurity Tech Accord: The Cybersecurity Tech Accord is a coalition of over 150 technology companies committed to advancing peace and security in cyberspace. The group’s mission revolves around four foundational principles: strong defense, no offense, capacity building and collective response.

Africa Digital Rights Fund Supports Mainstreaming of Online Freedoms in Somali Territories

By Ashnah Kalemera |

The digital landscape of Somalia and the breakaway states of Somaliland and Puntland is largely shaped by the region’s history of terrorism and political turmoil. Website censorship, internet disruptions and crackdowns on the media co-exist in a fast-evolving technology sector, within a regressive policy and regulatory environment. With support from the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF), three Somali initiatives are working to positively influence this landscape by raising the visibility of digital rights issues, alongside pushing for policy and practice reforms to ensure effective and inclusive use of technology for socio-economic and political development. 

Combined, the initiatives have skilled 235 human rights defenders, media practitioners and activists in safety and security online, and convened multiple stakeholder forums featuring government authorities, the private sector, civil society and law enforcement to promote wider awareness on digital rights and the need to prioritise rights-respecting technology adoption. The initiatives have also amplified efforts on effective utilisation of technology in Covid-19 response measures and worked to close the digital gender gap, focusing some interventions on addressing barriers to women’s meaningful participation in online spaces.

Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2020 report ranks Somaliland as ‘partly free’, citing a “consistent erosion of political rights and civic space” evidenced by numerous arrests and detention of journalists and critics, and suspension of media outlets, among others. Assessed separately, Somalia is ranked as ‘not free’ with “impunity for human rights abuses by both state and nonstate actors” being the norm. As a combined region, Somalia’s press freedom ranking is dismal too – at position 163 out of 180 countries assessed as part of the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

Somalia’s telecommunications sector, which is largely unregulated, has recorded steady growth, with 2020 figures indicating mobile subscriptions at 48% of the population and 10% internet penetration. Mobile money usage is widespread and, according to GSMA’s Mobile Money Regulatory Index, Somalia is ahead of many regional counterparts, having formalised sector regulations during 2019, allowed non-banks to offer electronic and mobile-based financial services, and permitted international mobile money transfers.

The ADRF’s partners – Digital Shelter, the Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA), and the Women in Media in Somalia (WIMISOM)- recognise that increased use of online platforms has the potential to positively shape political participation, innovation, inclusion and the realisation of human rights in Somalia and its breakaway regions.

In response to arrests and intimidation of several journalists and social media activists by the Somali federal government and federal states, digital attacks, and threats from terrorist groups, Digital Shelter spearheaded the “protect our online space” initiative with ADRF support. Under the initiative, Digital Shelter hosted a groundbreaking dialogue on shrinking online civic space in Mogadishu, which was attended by 80 human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and artists. The dialogue was followed by two digital security training sessions (hosted over three days each), also held in Mogadishu, benefiting 100 participants (47% female), including women human rights defenders, media practitioners and activists. Besides risk assessment, device security, encryption and circumvention, the training featured sessions on tackling misinformation and disinformation. 

Digital Shelter hosted a second dialogue on digital transformation and the future of online civic space in Mogadishu in partnership with the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Technology (MPTT). This forum brought together 80 government officials, tech activists, ICT experts, media practitioners, and civil society representatives. Speaking as a panelist at the forum, Abdiaziz Duwane, Director General of MPTT, reiterated the government’s commitment to prioritise the use of technology in private and public sectors, and to improve rural connectivity. 

With the success of the two dialogues, Digital Shelter went on to support Somalia’s Covid-19 response measures by hosting an engagement on misinformation and media coverage around Covid-19. Additionally, since September 2020, it has hosted monthly meet ups on digital rights topics, featuring various guest speakers. 

Recognising the role of media practitioners and digital platforms in promoting peace in conflict regions, the Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA), with ADRF support, equipped 120 journalists (40% female) with skills in innovative content development, safety and security online, and journalism for peace and humanitarianism. In addition, SOLJA organised a multi-stakeholder dialogue aimed at understanding misinformation and fact checking. Speaking at the dialogue, Muna Toosane, the Director of Communication at the Somaliland Ministry of Information and National Awareness, stated that ongoing government interventions were focused on increased adoption of technology, while mindful of emerging concerns over the spread of false and misleading information online. 

The engagements by SOLJA were informed by a knowledge, attitudes and perceptions survey on the impact of online platforms on print and broadcast media in Somaliland. Conducted during February and March 2020, the survey targeted 51 media stakeholders including the Ministry of Information, local print, broadcast and online media agencies, independent media practitioners, academia, human rights  and civil society organisations. The survey found that online platforms were perceived to have had a positive impact on governance and human rights in Somaliland. However, journalists’ use of the platforms was being undermined by limited understanding of online safety and security, pervasive hate speech and misinformation.

Further, SOLJA monitored Covid-19 coverage by five public and private media entities during April and May 2020. The assessment of Geeska Afrika, Jamhuuriya, Radio Hargeisa, Horn Cable TV and Saab TV, found that briefings from the Ministry of Health, the activities of the national response committee and prevention measures were the leading topics of reporting. However, messaging was often repetitive with little on societal and behavioural change. The report also found cases of misinformation on social media being reproduced in print and broadcast stories, as well as limited inclusion of women’s voices.

SOLJA has since gone on to engage Somaliland Members of Parliament, legal and religious leaders and the Deputy General Secretary of Somaliland parliament on a draft media bill to replace the Press Law 24/2004.

Digital Shelter and SOLJA’s interventions set the foundation for the third ADRF Somali grantee – Women in Media Initiative Somalia (WIMISOM) – whose work during 2020/2021 is focused on building the digital security skills and knowledge of women journalists (print, broadcast and online) and women-led media organisations in Puntland, Somalia and Somaliland as a means of combating threats against female journalists and their sources. 

Towards the end of 2020, WIMISON conducted a three days training of trainers (ToT) in Puntland, which was launched by a representative from the Puntland Ministry of Women Development and Family Affairs (MOWDAFA). The 15 trained trainers are due to support regional training during January and February 2021. In commemoration of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, WIMISOM organised a roundtable discussion on the challenges facing women in journalism and their role in fighting gender-based violence. 

The July 2020 profiling of Digital Shelter’s work by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) is testament to the need for continued elevation of digital rights advocacy and network building within wider efforts to advance human rights in Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland – a need that ADRF is proud to have set the pace for by supporting Digital Shelter, SOLJA and WIMISOM.

The ADRF is an initiative of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) with support from the Omidyar Network, Ford Foundation, the German Society for International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

Highlights of The African Internet Rights Alliance (AIRA) Work Advancing Online Freedoms

By CIPESA Writer |

The African Internet Rights Alliance (AIRA), a coalition of civil society organisations from around the continent, has racked up various joint interventions to advance digital rights on the continent. The Alliance works to promote privacy and data protection, affordability and access to the internet, access to information and freedoms of assembly, expression and the media.

The formation of the network was informed by the growing affronts to digital rights on the continent and the need for civil society actors to pool efforts so as to enhance their effectiveness in undertaking research, advocating policy and legislative reform, and capacity building, among other areas of intervention.

Each month, more than half a billion Africans access the internet – this is more than all the internet users in North America and the Middle East combined – and that number continues to grow. As the internet and digital technology become more and more integrated into all aspects of life, governance, and the economy in Africa, the inequalities and challenges we face online are reflected offline. We face new challenges to our human rights in the digital context – including unequal access, censorship and violence online. We must work together to ensure that everyone’s digital rights are respected and protected.

Over the past five years, internet shutdowns, stifling of dissent, poor data governance and various forms of online violence have persisted, perpetrated both by the government and the private sector, despite increased calls for progressive policy and practice. In order to advance collaborative approaches to promote digital rights, a coalition of civil society organisations came together to pool experience and expertise under AIRA. The alliance was unveiled at the 2020 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica20) and also presented at the 2020 global Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

The AIRA members include Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, BudgIT, the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT), Co-Creation Hub (CcHub), the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet), Legal Resource Centre (LRC) and Paradigm Initiative (PIN). Many of the alliance members had worked together over the past three years and realised the need for transnational collaboration and coalition-building to protect and expand digital rights across Africa.

Below are some highlights of AIRA’s work

  • Developed and distributed key digital rights terminology guidance to journalists.
  • Hosted a media webinar on digital rights, Covid-19 and elections across Africa.
  • Submitted joint letters to the United Nations and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights regarding the use of Kenya’s Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act and Nigeria’s Cybercrimes Act.
  • Facilitated a joint social media campaign aimed at condemning governments who have unfairly detained journalists.
  • Supported the revision of the Declaration of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR); and
  • Engaged with the media on digital rights challenges and opportunities.

Explaining the spirit behind AIRA
“AIRA was largely borne out of the need for movement building in campaigns for universal access and tackling inequalities and human rights challenges faced by Africans online, which are reflected offline. These challenges vary country by country, sub-region by sub-region and indeed, from one user to the next. However, norm setting requires a unified approach and platforms for collaborative learning and engagement – which AIRA seeks to do, in tandem with other pre-existing digital rights coalitions,” said CIPESA Executive Director Wairagala Wakabi. 

“The AIRA coalition is uniquely positioned to undertake value-based, collective interventions and executes strategic initiatives that engage the government, private sector, media and civil society to institute and safeguard digital rights. Instructively, one limb of our multi-faceted digital rights work encourages government to espouse our four values – accountability, transparency, integrity and good governance – as they roll out inevitable digital policies and action plans,” said KICTANet Convenor Grace Githaiga.

“AIRA members vocalise the needs and challenges of millions of individuals across Central, East, Southern and West Africa, including individuals who remain disconnected from the digital sphere, those at risk of being disconnected, and those who are already connected, albeit poorly,” said Legal Resources Centre Legal Researcher Edwin Makwati. 

“In the face of COVID-19, Internet shutdowns and stifling of dissent, digital rights across Africa are under threat more than ever before. AIRA is prepared to pool its experience and expertise to advance digital rights and is well positioned to hold governments and the private sector accountable for any violation of those rights,” said Amnesty International Technology Advisor Kiggundu Mark. 

“Together, we can do so much,” said Paradigm Initiative Executive Director ‘Gbenga Sesan. “We invite others to join us in the movement to establish, advance and protect digital rights for all on the African continent.” 

Learn more about AIRA here 

Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2020

The Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (#FIFAFRICA) is a landmark event that convenes various stakeholders from the internet governance and online rights arenas in Africa and beyond to deliberate on gaps, concerns and opportunities for advancing privacy, access to information, free expression, non-discrimination and the free flow of information online on the continent.
Click here to see the event information.