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76 new internet restrictions recorded in 2023, affecting 2.5 billion people

The new restrictions were the combined effort of 22 governments and were politically motivated, Surfshark's Internet Shutdown Tracker shows

2023 started with 40 ongoing internet disruptions, while 76 started during the year, according to Surfshark's internet shutdown yearly recap. Compared to 2022, 15% fewer new restrictions (76 vs. 89) were observed in 2023. The year ended with 55 cases continuing into 2024, marking the third consecutive year of increases in ongoing cases at year's end. Asia accounts for most (55) new restrictions-Iran was the clear leader with 29 new cases (largely happening amid Friday protests in Zahedan), followed by India with 11.

"Internet shutdowns are commonly used by autocratic regimes to hinder communications, thwart protest organization, and cut people off from loved ones in times of political unrest. During elections, internet restrictions limit the spread of information about candidates, eroding the democratic integrity of elections. Furthermore, amid violent government crackdowns, internet blackouts can effectively prevent the dissemination of critical information regarding human rights abuses to the international community. The increasingly frequent use of internet shutdowns threatens the global foundation of free speech and human rights, dangerously tipping the scale towards oppression and away from democratic accountability.", says Lina Survila, Surfshark spokeswoman.

Asia continues to lead by internet disruption count

8 Asian governments imposed 55 new restrictions, affecting 1.9 billion people - or ¼ of the global population:

  • Iran led the world in new restrictions with 29 cases, all happening during Friday anti-government protests organized to commemorate the 2022 Zahedan massacre.
  • India came in second with 11 new restrictions in 2023, a slight uptake from the 2022 figure of 10.
  • Other Asian countries and territories grappling with restricted internet access included Pakistan (4 cases), Jammu & Kashmir (4), Yemen (3), Turkey (2 ), and Iraq (1).

Africa was the 2nd most intensive continent in internet restrictions

10 African countries were responsible for 17 new cases of internet restrictions, affecting 330 million people in total. Most internet freedom violations came from 4 countries: Senegal (5 cases), Ethiopia, Guinea, and Mauritania (2 cases each).

Protests were the leading cause of government-imposed internet restrictions

Nearly two-thirds of internet restrictions in 2023 were related to protests, impacting 1.7 billion people across 8 countries. Iran was the top country by internet restrictions due to protests, as all 29 of its cases in 2023 happened amid anti-government protests. India came second, with 8 recorded internet restrictions amid protests in 2023. This includes the ongoing mobile data service suspension in specific districts of Manipur.

Five countries implemented internet restrictions during elections: Chad, Gabon, Turkey, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Looking ahead to 2024, 90 countries are set to hold elections during the year. An increase in election-related network restrictions is anticipated as some governments attempt to influence their electoral process.

The Internet Censorship Tracker was developed by Surfshark in partnership with internet watchdog NetBlocks. The research tracks partial and complete internet and social media shutdowns in 196 countries and territories from 2015 onwards. For the full yearly ICT recap, please visit the link: https://surfshark.com/research/study/internet-shutdowns-2023.

Published Friday, February 09, 2024 3:45 PM by David Marshall
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