Internet services were disrupted in South Sudan on Monday and security forces were deployed in the streets, which were quieter than usual as activists called for protests against the government of President Salva Kiir.
A coalition of activist groups repeated calls for his resignation at public rallies on Sunday, with Kiir addressing lawmakers at the inaugural session of parliament on Monday morning. However, there was no sign of large street gatherings in the capital Juba in the early hours of Monday. Some activists told Reuters they were hiding for security reasons.
Police said the activists had not sought permission to protest, and therefore any large demonstration would be illegal. “We have deployed forces to maintain order to a minimum in case of any problem. Those forces are on the streets for your safety,” said police spokesman Daniel Justin Boulogne. Deputy Inspector General of Police Lieutenant General James Pui Yak, addressing a specific unit on television on Sunday, said officers would “not harm anyone” to break up the demonstrations.
“They are just going to advise people… to go on with their normal lives, we don’t want any disruption. Residents of Juba told Reuters that as of Sunday evening mobile data was not available on the network of South African mobile operator MTN Group, and as of Monday morning it was also blocked on the network of Kuwait-based operator Zain Group.
Alp Tokar, director of Netblox, a London-based group that tracks Internet disruptions, said it “detected significant disruption in Internet service starting Sunday evening in South Sudan, including on major cellular networks”.
Deputy Information Minister Baba Medan told Reuters he could not immediately comment on the alleged shutdown, as he was busy attending the opening of parliament. MTN did not immediately respond to a comment request. A spokesman for Zain said he was investigating with the South Sudan office.
Activist Jaime David Kolok, whose Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance is one of the groups called for the demonstration, told Reuters the internet shutdown was a sign “authorities are panicking”.
Activists accused Keir’s government of corruption and failure to protect the population or provide basic services. Kiir’s government has repeatedly denied allegations of abuse and corruption by rights and advocacy groups.