Internet and social media access has been shut in the Republic of Congo on Sunday, 21 March, as polls opened in a presidential election which veteran leader Denis Sassou Nguesso is expected to win.
The internet went down just after midnight, several hours before the opening of polling stations at 7:00 am (0600 GMT), AFP correspondents said.
Telephone communications however is still available, unlike in the previous election in 2016.
The 77-year-old Sassou Nguesso, in power for 36 years, is widely expected to win against six contenders.
On Wednesday, between 55,000 and 60,000 members of the security forces voted in advance. This early vote is seen as a potential source of fraud by opponents of the incumbent president.
The largest opposition group, the Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS), is boycotting the poll.
Sunday’s vote was cast into doubt when it was revealed that the leading opposition candidate was in the hospital after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The central African country’s constitution stipulates that an election can be delayed if a candidate dies or is unable to participate in the vote.
About 50 organisations, including Internet Without Borders, last week appealed to the president to “keep the internet open, accessible and safe during the whole of the 2021 presidential election period.”
“Internet and social media provide a space for communication, for public debate, for researching information on electoral processes and candidates, for reporting and documenting events and results,” they said.
“Internet shutdowns undermine human rights, disrupt emergency services and cripple economies.”
Congo’s Catholic Church episcopal conference has expressed “serious reservations” about the ballot’s transparency and feared a possible internet shutdown on Sunday.