Burundi’s netizens bypass government blockage of social networks with VPN

Authorities in Burundi blocked mobile access to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp in a bid to stop anti-government protesters from organizing online. Independent radio stations are also shut down to prevent news of protests spreading.

A government-imposed blockade of social networks in Burundi remained in place on Wednesday as protests ahead of June elections entered a fourth day. Since Sunday, demonstrators have protested in the outskirts of the capital Bujumbura against President President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third consecutive term.

Samantha, a Burundi citizen living in Bujumbura told Reported.ly on Tuesday evening that social networks over 3G were blocked, but that access is available over wireless networks. Most networked citizens access social media sites and the internet over 3G, however, she said.

Interview with Samantha, a resident of Bujumbura

The blockage has had an effect on communications.

On Tuesday, netizens and hacktivist group Anonymous began to share details of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) that allow users to circumvent the blockage. Samantha told Reported.ly that activists have been able to use VPN on Android and iOS phones.

Violent crackdown

Six people have reportedly been killed since Sunday, when Burundi’s police violently cracked down with live rounds, tear gas and grenades, as authorities seek to restrict protests to the outskirts of Bujumbura and Gatoke. The notorious Imbonerakure, the militarized youth wing of Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party, are said to have joined the police crackdown in uniforms, targeting protesters.

Solidarity protests were also held in Canada and Belgium on Wednesday.

Protesters face police in Bujumbura, April 29 (Jerome Delay/AP). Burundian soldier extinguishes a burning-tyre roadblock in Bujumbura, April 27 (Eloge Willy Kaneza/AP)

The UNHCR says that at least 25,000 people fearing pre-election violence have fled to neighbouring Rwanda and the DRC; 5,000 fled in the weekend.

The crackdown has not stemmed the appetite for a new government. “The people are speaking for change,” Samantha said. “We want to grow as a country, economically, to develop.”