The law wins fights for citizens under the dictatorial rule: this is what happened in Sudan when a judge ruled to restore the internet service to the Sudanese after it was cut off in the aftermath of the October 25 coup.
In the last three years, Sudan has experienced numerous outages and interference owing to the ongoing political crisis. The government also orders outages during the nationwide secondary school exam, known as the Sudanese Certificate, as a way to prevent cheating with outsiders sending answers to those taking the exam.
These incidents have raised alarm over the growing use of internet shutdowns both in Sudan and in the greater region. Yet, the legal basis for internet shutdowns has never been properly examined, even though it might offer insight into possible paths for advocacy against the practice.
After ousting OmarAl Bashir in 2019, Sudan has been ruled according to a power-sharing agreement between the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) and the Transitional Military Council. This ruling regime worked to stabilize the country by considering peace as the mission of the highest priority.
In 2020, the government signed the Juba peace agreements with the rebels and shared the power with them. Since then, some of the rebels have worked with the military to oust the FFC from the ruling. In October they held a sit in in front of the Republican Palace, after which General Burhan announced a military coup ousting the FFC.
The last internet shutdown in Sudan began on October 25, 2021, and Lasted 25 days. It took place during Lt.Gen Burhan‘s coup. He is the general commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces the official name of the Sudan Army and justified the internet shutdown by saying it would “save the national unity and national security from the threats that the state is facing.”, as illustrated in the screenshot below:
The shutdown was also based on the Armed Forces Law, and the Emergency Law, which are two broad laws that are invoked to give the executive broad powers during times of political unrest.
Article 6 (d) of the Armed Forces Act says that the Sudanese Armed Forces are required to “respond to legally defined emergency situations.” While Article 8 (2) of the law on emergency and public safety 1997 gives the president power to legislate anything without concerning the legislative authority or the “the parliament,” however undemocratic this may be.
Given that the existing authority at that time was claimed via a coup, all of their subsequent decisions are unconstitutional, including the use of these laws.
Days after the coup, an alliance consisting of the Sudanese Consumer Protection Organization Dr Yassir Mirghani, the Secretary-General of SCPO, Abdalazeem Hassan on behalf of the allied attorneys’ law firm, Salma Mohamed and Tasneem Hashim filed suit challenging the internet shutdown on the basis of their subscription contracts with the telecom companies.
On November 9, 2021, the general court of Khartoum ordered the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to restore internet service to the SIM cards of the complainants. After two days, the same court ordered the ISPs to restore internet service for all subscribers all over Sudan.
The TPRA decision depends on Articles 6 (J), 7.1, article 7.2 (A) of the TPRA law of 2018 which assign the TPRA the duty of “protecting the national security and the higher interests of Sudan,” and “the state’s obligations and requirements in the field of national security and defence, and national, regional and international policies.” “National security” is a vague term that was not defined, which let the authorities abuse it in their interests against the people’s interests.
Also, Article 77 says: “TPRA has the right to shut down any wireless device or wireless station or broadcast station temporarily or permanently if it turns out that it’s working in a way that violates the law rule and the regulations.”
The ISPs appealed the TPRA’s decision, and the judge rejected it and ordered them to restore internet services. The government ignored this directive.
Subsequently, the general court in Khartoum issued an arrest warrant for the CEOs of telecom companies in Sudan, denying their release until they restored internet services to all subscribers. As a result, the internet was restored with some restrictions on social media sites.
During this time, Sudanese people uses VPN to bypass the blocking. Private companies like Proton VPN provided free VPN to the Sudanese people.
The courts continue to side with the Sudanese people. On November 24, the general court of Khartoum court, which belongs to the first level of courts, ordered the ISPs to restore the internet without any restrictions. Netblocks confirmed the restoration on Twitter: