Internet disrupted in Algeria amid protests against military influence

Network data from the NetBlocks internet observatory show that internet access has been restricted in regions of Algeria as of Friday, 14 September 2019 and Saturday. The measures appear to impact widespread public demonstrations against the influence of army leaders in the civic space.

Technical data show similarities to restrictions imposed during the rule of ousted president Bouteflika, affecting internet service with state-run Algeria Telecom (AS36947) beginning Friday, with the cuts extending in Tizi Ouzou, Bouïra, Sétif, Jijel and parts of Algiers at exactly 00:00 hours UTC Saturday morning.

In some regions, outages first became evident from Friday, 14 September 2019 as users reported difficulty sharing videos and photos from the protests.

Measurements indicate that the new disruptions are technically consistent with previously documented cuts during the regime of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Shutdowns through early 2019 marked an escalation in Algeria’s crisis which triggered social change manifesting in continued calls for a civilian-led government.

Why are Algerians protesting?

Thousands of Algerians took to the streets in the capital on Friday to demand that the exit of the ruling elite, following the ouster of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

There has been growing concern about extensive military influence in Algeria’s civic sphere for several months, and many now see these elements as a direct challenge to democracy and the rule of law.

Friday’s protest is continuing into the weekend and is said to be the 30th consecutive demonstration. Foremost, protesters are calling reforms prior to elections, saying that votes cannot be safeguarded in the current political climate.

They also demand that the authorities release prominent opposition leader Karim Tabou, a who was detained on Wednesday and charged with “contributing to weakening army morale.”

News media report some fifteen participants have been detained since Friday:

Together, these actions have been seen as unfair a time when Algerians are seeking to reinstate their rights having only recently emerged from two decades of oppressive governance.

Why has internet access been impacted?

Algeria does not publicly report instances of network shutdowns, throttling or website blocking, hence examination of technical evidence has been used to examine these incidents. Hence, there is no legal framework which can be referred to.

However, the timeline network disruptions related to political incidents as well those imposed in non-political contexts such as school exams in recent years provide insights into the mechanism of the latest outages. Similar measures to those identified this weekend were identified during protests against the Bouteflika regime:

The practice ended after Algeria’s former leader stepped down following months of intense demonstrations. Large celebratory rallies were held in the same regions without disruption through early 2019 and there are currently no indications of technical or infrastructural issues.

However, since March, Algeria has seen creeping signs of censorship targeting criticism of the country’s military leadership which is seen by some as a remnant of the old regime.

In August 2019, NetBlocks reported the blocking of YouTube by state-run Algeria Telecom (AS36947) and other internet providers.

Those restrictions came after the publication of a video where Algeria’s ex-defense minister Khaled Nezzar addressed “members of the National People’s Army” calling on them to “realize the demands of the people,” understood as to be a call for the public to oust military leader Ahmed Gaid Salah:

These patterns are loosely reminiscent of Sudan, where internet restrictions were used before the country’s transition, then lifted, then reinstated during a power struggle between the general public and the military council.

What areas of Algeria are offline?

Network data show that the restrictions are geographically targeted, impacting mobile and fixed-line telecommunication networks in locations where demonstrations are being held. Other locations including much of the capital Algiers are not affected.

For impacted users, social media uploads and and news coverage are likely to be severely limited. Access remains possible via alternative network at the time of writing. The timing of the disruptions presents a significant challenge to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

Background

NetBlocks previously detected and documented internet disruptions in Algeria during online calls for a public uprising, amid protests against Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and during school examinations earlier this summer.

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NetBlocks diffscans, which map the entire IP address space of a country in real time, show internet outages corresponding to connectivity disruptions. Purposeful internet outages generally have a distinct network pattern used by NetBlocks to determine and attribute the root cause of an outage, a process known as attribution which follows detection and classification stages.


NetBlocks is a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives for an open and inclusive digital future for all.

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