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Program Update, Research

New report analyzes internet censorship during Lesotho’s 2017 general elections

Lesotho government attempts but fails to censor social media: report

The Kingdom of Lesotho unsuccessfully attempted to shut down access to certain websites twice during the period leading up to last month’s general elections, a new OTF supported report finds.

As part of his Sub Saharan-Africa Cyber Regionalism and Elections project, Arthur Gwagwa traveled to Maseru, Lesotho, to examine existing internet controls and also monitor internet accessibility during the southern African country’s elections, held on June 3, 2017. To test for signs of internet censorship or shutdowns, Arthur employed the use of Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) probes before and during the elections, while also conducting qualitative research through discussions with various government, political, and civil society leaders.

The OONI technical testing (raw data accessible here) showed no evidence of government interference. However, Arthur’s qualitative findings reveal that while the Lesotho government exhibited hostility toward social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter, without the cooperation of the ISPs and the Lesotho Communications Authority, they lacked the technical capability to carry out censorship of either site. Furthermore, certain government actors - namely the Lesotho Communications Authority, the country’s primary ICT regulatory body - “pushed back” on government requests to curtail access to certain sites.

The report also identifies a need for Lesotho to “mainstream an understanding of human rights in cybersecurity.” Now under new leadership following the elections, the Kingdom has on previous occasions shut down certain print and broadcast media outlets.

Lesotho’s attempts to restrict internet access in the lead up to the elections follow in the footsteps of several other African states, including Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Uganda, and Republic of Congo, which all shut down internet access in whole or in part leading up to or during their own elections in 2016.

Read “When Governments Defriend Social Media: A study of internet-based information controls in the Kingdom of Lesotho with a particular focus on the period around the 3 June 2017 General Electionshere.

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