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Rising internet censorship in Africa threatens citizens freedom, study reveals

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ONLINE censorship is on the increase as governments across the world are imposing harsh restrictions on citizens internet freedom.

This was revealed in a study by Comparitech, a website focused on improving cybersecurity and privacy. The study attributes the global decline in internet freedom to governments crackdown on online porn and political media.

It shows that 42 out of 53 countries in Africa enforced restrictions on political media while 11 countries imposed tight control of the internet to subdue free expression. 

Authorities in Nigeria had blocked access to Twitter after the platform removed inflammatory posts by Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari.

Notwithstanding, Nigeria is listed among the world’s least censored countries, having scored 3 points.

Egypt is the only country to restrict VPN after blocking several VPN providers’ websites and servers while South Africa is the only African country to actively shut down torrenting sites.

According to the report, Algeria, Cameroon and Chad increased their suppression of political commentary for the second year in a row from 2020.

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Torrenting involves downloading files from other users’ devices on a network instead of downloading files to a central server. It is considered legal unless if person torrents a copyrighted content.

The annual study, which has been published since 2016, measures the extent to which a country is censored across six criteria including torrents, pornography, political media, social media, Virtual Private Network, VPN, and messaging/Voice over Internet Protocol, VoIP apps.

Any restriction across any of the six criteria shows that the country is censored.

A country is scored one point if a communication medium is restricted but accessible and two points if it is banned entirely.

A higher score means more censorship. The worst countries for internet censorship include North Korea and China scoring 11 out of 11, while Iran scored 10.

Six countries namely Belarus, Qatar, Syria, Thailand, Turkmenistan, and the UAE, scored 8 points each.

Thailand saw its biggest increase in censorship, including the introduction of an online porn ban which saw 190 adult websites being taken down.

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The report further showed that 14 African countries have restrictions on online pornography with a full-fledged ban imposed on all pornographic websites by Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Tanzania, and Uganda. 

Officials in Tanzania imposed new regulations that further defined pornography as a type of prohibited content.

“All of these countries (in the eighth tier) ban pornography, have heavily censored political media, restrict social media (bans have also been seen in Turkmenistan), and restrict the use of VPNs,” the study revealed.

Comparitech’s study noted that VPNs do still offer a way for many of us to surf the net privately and legally.

Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.

If you or someone you know has a lead, tip or personal experience about this report, our WhatsApp line is open and confidential for a conversation

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