Zimbabwe Government Shuts Down Internet Over Fuel Price Protests

Zimbabwean soldiers mount positions at entry points into the city of Bulawayo

A Zimbabwean man speaks on his phone outside a branch of mobile service provider Econet Wireless in central Harare.

Zimbabwe's government has again forced a "total internet shutdown" after a violent crackdown on people protesting against fuel price increases, a media group has said.

Ravina Shamdasani, U.N. human rights spokeswoman, denounced allegations of "generalised intimidation and harassment" by security forces in night-time door-to-door searches, beatings by police and the shutting down of Internet and social media.

Wearing his trademark Zimbabwe flag around his neck, he appeared pensive in the dock of Harare magistrates court as his supporters murmured their disapproval at the judge's ruling. Some had broken legs.

Gasoline in the economically shattered country is now the world's most expensive.

Access to the internet and popular social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp has been intermittently blocked as the country's largest telecom company, Econet, sends customers text messages relaying the government's orders and calling the situation "beyond our reasonable control".

The government has said three people died during demonstrations that broke out on Monday after President Emmerson Mnangagwa raised fuel prices by 150%.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment on the blackout, which critics say is an attempt to prevent images of heavy-handedness in dealing with protesters from being broadcast around the world.

A prominent Zimbabwean pastor, Evan Mawarire, was arrested during the protests. Mawarire faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

"This is not way to react to the expression of economic grievances by the population", she said.

Mugabe, now 94, ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years from independence from Britain until he was ousted in November 2017.

As NPR's Eyder Peralta reports: "Mnangagwa ushered in an era of historical civic freedoms: Police checkpoints were lifted and for the first time in decades Zimbabweans were allowed to air political views".

Now Mnangagwa is seen as potentially an even more repressive leader than his predecessor.

However, public transport operators largely kept off the streets with reports indicating that most people chose to stay at home around the country.

We make an urgent call to SADC and global community to intervene and stop this out-of-control regime from destroying human rights in Zimbabwe.

The partial lifting of the internet closure should ease the economic impact of a web shutdown.

How can the government turn off the internet?

Civil servants, who gave Mnangagwa's government a 14-day notice to strike on January 8, want to be paid in dollars or have the monthly salary of the lowest paid worker increased from $414 to $1,700, Muzondo said.

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