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Senegal Cuts Mobile Internet as Crackdown on Dissent Widens

(Bloomberg) -- Senegal’s government cut access to mobile internet services for a second time in as many weeks in a widening crackdown on dissent after the authorities postponed presidential elections scheduled for this month.

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The step was taken because “hateful and subversive” messages have been posted online that have spurred “violent protests and deaths and significant damages,” the Communications Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. The announcement came after the authorities banned a demonstration that opposition supporters had planned to hold in the city in protest of the vote delay.

Read more: Senegal’s Fury Over Delayed Election Adds to West Africa Unrest

Last week, at least three people died when Senegalese police confronted opposition supporters at protests in Dakar and other cities, according to the authorities and the opposition. At least 266 people, including journalists, have been arrested across the country, the United Nations Human Rights Office said in a statement.

Instability has increased in the West African country since President Macky Sall on Feb. 4 announced the postponement of the election and lawmakers then extended his term in office for at least 10 months. The political crisis is unusual in Senegal, which has been considered one of Africa’s most stable democracies, and has unnerved foreign investors.

The yield on Senegal’s debt due in 2033 has risen almost 100 basis points since the vote was postponed. It traded five basis points higher at 9.25% by 1:18 p.m. in London.

Read More: What’s Gone Wrong in Normally Stable Senegal?: QuickTake

The authorities’ crackdown on dissent and the targeting of jailed opposition leader Ousmane Sonko’s supporters has led to such a deterioration in civil liberties that one advocacy group that monitors human rights globally has ranked the West African nation alongside countries run by military juntas.

Senegal imposed the highest number of internet restrictions in Africa last year, according to VPN-provider Surfshark. The country’s economy lost as much as $57.5 million in 2023 because of the shutdowns, according to Top10VPN, a VPN reviewer.

(Updates with UN report on arrests in third paragraph.)

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