Chatters of Internet Shutdown, Scare Tactics as Liberians Protest Over Economic Decline
Monrovia – Marie Kerkulah, like most Liberians is hoping that today’s Save-the-State protest goes on without any incident. “What we want is a peaceful protest tomorrow and we expect the police to guide the protesters and they should stop beating the children” Kerkulah, one of several members of the Women in Peacebuilding Network(WIPNET), which recently resumed prayers for peace ahead of the protest today, said Thursday.
Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
“What we saw on Broad Street the other day is wrong they should stop beating the children,” Kerkulah told FrontPageAfrica, in reference to an incident Monday that saw a member of the national legislature, the controversial Rep. Yekeh Korlubah come under fire from stone-throwing assailants as he left a talk-show appearance on Sky FM’s 50-50.
The calls for peace come amid concerns on the eve of today’s peaceful assembly that authorities are planning to interrupt internet connections similar to what authorities in Ethiopia have done to control the narratives of protests in recent times.
Authorities in Ethiopia, Cameroun and other countries government by hardliners have routinely restricted access to social media to contain protests.
VPN Options Available
Users in most cases have to turn to Virtual Private Networks (VPN) connections as an alternative. More often than not when internet cuts are imposed, people are advised to switch to VPNs for access. VPNs are basically network setup for use by a limited number of individuals, such as employees of a company and are often encrypted for security.
This week, a purported communication allegedly signed by Minister of Justice Frank Musah Dean, written to the head of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, Ivan Brown, seeking the LTA’s assistance in providing the most appropriate regulatory regime to enable the government of Liberia to ensure the peace and stability of the nation, through the office of the attorney general. The communication urged the LTA to seek a conference with the two licensed telecommunications operators to address the threats and concerns.
FrontPageAfrica has been unable to get a response from the LTA chair Brown but a member of the board speaking on condition of anonymity said the communication was fake. Justice Minister Dean when contacted also said the same, declaring the communication in circulation as fake. “It has nothing of any identity on it. For the good of this society we should compel people to provide evidence, Minister Dean stated.
The Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) is the regulatory and competition authority charged with the statutory responsibility to ensure a vibrant telecommunications sector in Liberia.
Amid the denial, FrontPageAfrica received multiple tip-offs and inquiries Thursday suggesting that the LTA had instructed cellular operators take steps during the protest day to interrupt internet services. Although it is unclear what those steps are, an industry insider said some factors could prevent the action from being implemented.
“It sounds like Orange and Lonestar got an order to cut off internet services. Technically, they can do that, they could say they have a technical problem…but actually will take the service down,” said the insider Thursday.
One source told FPA that such interruptions could not be ruled out using the Cable Consortium of Liberia (CCL), a public-private partnership formed in 2010 to own and operate Liberia’s cable landing point for the ACE cable system. Stakeholders in the project include the Government of Liberia (60%), Libtelco (20%), Lonestar Cell (10%), and Cellcom (10%).
CCL signed the Construction and Maintenance Agreement for the ACE system on 5 June 2010. The CCL’s share of the US$700 million project is $25 million. The World Bank provided an initial US$5 million grant to finance half of the Government of Liberia’s stake in the project. The cable will be the first fiber optic telecommunications cable to land in Liberia, which had not previously collaborated in other African cable projects due to its 14-year civil strife. The cable landed in Monrovia on November 3, 2011
The chatters and fears of an internet shutdown comes as President George Manneh Weah on Thursday revisited former Head of State Samuel Kanyon Doe’s Decree 88a which forbid insults against the head of state.
Revisiting Doe’s ’80-Era Decree 88A
The decree declared on July 21, 1984, gave security forces the power to “arrest and detain any person found spreading rumors, lies, and misinformation against any government official or individual either by mouth, writing or by public broadcast”
Article 2 (1) of the 1986 Constitution erased the decree from the books. Article 2 states: “Any laws, treaties, statutes, decrees, customs and regulations found to be inconsistent with it shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void and of no legal effect. The Supreme Court, pursuant to its power of judicial review, is empowered to declare any inconsistent laws unconstitutional.”
On Thursday however, President Weah, while dedicated a new market in Duport Road Paynesville threatened “those that constantly threatening the states, constantly inciting people. “I want to be clear; we will not tolerate those kinds of citizens. Those that constantly insulting the President, I want to be clear; after this, there will be no citizens in this country, I can defy you that will ever insult the President and think you will walk on the streets freely.”
The President said any Liberian with grievances should channel them in an honorable way. “If you have your views, express your views but any insult and any threats that citizen will be dealt with under the law. And it can be whosoever.”
Events of the past week have struck some concerns amongst protest organizers that the government may have succeeded in instilling fears among some Liberians contemplating on attending today’s rally where the organizers under the banner of the Council of Patriots will be stating a list of demands to President Weah in the wake of rising inflation and dwindling economic outlook.
A leaked copy of the petition in circulation Thursday lists among other things, the consummation of both the Eton Finance and Ebomaf loan deals despite outright rejection by Liberians and concerns from multilateral and bilateral Partners and flagrant violation of the Liberian constitution and laws including the recent unconstitutional removal of Associate Justice Kabineh Jan’eh against public outcries and disapproval as just a few of the issues they are looking to have the president and government address.
Protest Demands Leaked
COP has also chronicled what it says are deliberate violations of the procurement laws of Liberia such as the granting of contractual rights, for handling services at the Roberts International Airport, awarding of Container Tracking Number (CTN) contract to GTMS without consideration for the PPCC Act , in clear violation of the Budget and PFM Law and the attending security implications and witch hunting of critics and members of the Opposition through wrongful dismissals even from the civil service and denial of opportunities in the private sector;
The protesters are also expected to highlight the suppression of press freedom and freedom of speech through threats against BBC’s Jonathan Paylayleh, continual molestation and harassment of Roots FM, denial of operational license to Punch FM as well as conversion of the Liberia Broadcasting System-owned and operated ELBC into a Government’s propaganda organ and the issuance of threats against critics by officials and the continuous remobilization of former combatants of the civil war as well as the construction and acquisition of scores of luxury private buildings by the President in the wake of his refusal to declare his assets within six months after assuming office and to make public assets reportedly declared to the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC) following mounting pressures.