Court orders Sudan internet blackout stopped

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A Sudanese court ordered telecoms operator Zain Sudan to restore internet services, a lawyer said, after they were severed three weeks ago when security forces dispersed protesters camping in central Khartoum.

Sudan’s military rulers ordered the internet blackout as a security measure but it is harming the economy and humanitarian operations in the African nation of 40 million. Protesters demand the military hand power to a civilian authority.

Abdel-Adheem Hassan, a lawyer who filed his own case against Zain Sudan over the blackout, told Reuters the Khartoum District Court ordered Zain to “immediately restore internet services to the country”.

Sudanese courts do not confirm or deny rulings to media.

Zain Sudan, a subsidiary of Zain Kuwait and the largest operator in Sudan, was not immediately able to comment. Hassan said a Zain representative told the court in response to the petition the company was verbally ordered by “high authorities” to cut the internet.

A source at Zain told Reuters the telecoms regulator ordered the internet outage and demanded  they be added as a party to the case in an appeal.

Sudanese officials could not be reached for comment and it was unclear what impact Sunday’s court order would have.

Authorities also restricted access to popular social media sites during 16 weeks of protests against veteran leader Omar al-Bashir earlier this year. Bashir was finally ousted on April 11.

“SEVERE” RESTRICTIONS

The current blackout, which began on June 3, resulted in a “near-total loss of access” for mobile and fixed line connections for most ordinary users, though connectivity had improved from 2% to 10% of normal levels by last Thursday, said Alp Toker of NetBlocks, a digital rights NGO.

“Data indicate Sudan’s current internet restrictions remain more severe than those during the rule of Omar al-Bashir, including the final days of the regime,” Toker said in an email.

The blackout hampered the speed and effectiveness of humanitarian operations, said Rick Brennan, regional emergencies director at the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Protesters demand authorities restore internet services as a condition for returning to talks on forming a transitional administration comprising both civilians and military officers.

General Salah Abdel-Khaleq, a member of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, told the BBC Arabic service internet services would be restored once talks resumed.