Congo imposes total communications blackout during election

New York, March 22, 2016 -The government of the Republic of Congo should immediately lift the total communications blackout it imposed before the March 20 presidential elections, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Congolese Interior Minister Raymond Mboulou on March 19 ordered telecommunications companies to cut all mobile phone, text message, and Internet service for at least 48 hours in order to prevent “illegal” reporting of election results, according to news reports. The blackout remained in effect today, according to press reports.

“Plunging a country into a communications dark age on unfounded fears is reckless,” CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said. “Democracy does not work without a free press. We call on the government to restore all communications immediately and ensure that journalists can do their job. Failure to do so undermines confidence in the entire election process.”

CPJ’s calls to the president of the High Council of Freedom of Communication went unanswered. The Embassy of the Republic of Congo in Washington did not respond to requests for comment by telephone or email.

At 32 years in power, President Denis Sassou Nguesso is among the longest-serving leaders in Africa. He is widely expected to be announced the winner of this most recent election on Wednesday. Tensions across the country have been running high since October, when a referendum was held on a series of changes to the constitution, allowing Sassou to run again, according to reports.