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New Report Investigates Internet Censorship During Rwanda’s 2017 Presidential Election

| By: Dan McDevitt

Rwanda censors critical, independent media in targeted fashion: report

The Rwandan government continued to block access to the websites of several independent media outlets leading up to and during the country’s recent presidential election, a new OTF supported report finds.

As part of his Sub Saharan-Africa Cyber Regionalism and Elections project, Arthur Gwagwa explored in a limited capacity the state of internet censorship in Rwanda during the presidential election, held on August 4th. Gwagwa tested ten sites that would likely be targeted, finding that five of them were blocked. Among the blocked websites were those of independent media outlets ​Inyenyeri​ ​News,​ ​The​ ​Rwandan,​ ​and​ ​Le​ ​Prophete.

Additionally, Gwagwa found that the Rwandan government has in the past pressured communication service providers to comply with content takedown requests, disseminated propaganda to stifle public discourse and control the narrative on controversial issues, and monitored conversations on social media platforms such as WhatsApp in order to “neuter online debate​ ​on​ ​issues​ ​that​ ​matter​ ​to​ ​the​ ​average​ ​Rwandan,​ ​especially​ ​to​ ​minority​ ​groups.​”

The study employs the use of both qualitative and quantitative measures to assess what, if any, information control methods were present in Rwanda during the election period. Gwagwa traveled to the Rwandan capital city of Kigali for several days to conduct interviews with local journalists and civil society actors, while relying on Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) testing probes for the technical measurements.

In the election, longtime Rwandan president Paul Kagame won again with a 99% margin of victory reported. Critics say the wide margin of victory highlights the lack of political space for opposition groups - further reflected by the censorship apparently employed against independent voices on the internet.

Read “A study of internet-based information controls in Rwanda with a particular focus on the period around the 4 August 2017 General Elections” here.

Projects Mentioned

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