President Joseph Kabila has been in power for the past 16 years [Lintao Zhang/Getty Images]
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has ordered a countrywide shutdown of internet and SMS services ahead of planned anti-government protests on Sunday.
The country’s telecommunications minister, Emery Okundji, issued a letter instructing operators to suspend their services at 18:00 local time (17:00 GMT) on Saturday until further notice, citing “state security” reasons.
The move comes as Catholic church activists have called for a “peaceful march” in various cities, demanding that President Joseph Kabila step down. There is growing anger over Kabila’s refusal to relinquish power after his second full term ended in December 2016.
Congolese authorities have largely maintained a ban on demonstrations in the country, and the governor of the capital, Kinshasa, refused to authorise Sunday’s rally.
“The city does not have sufficient numbers of police officers to supervise this march,” Governor Andre Kimbuta said on Saturday. “Therefore, I do not recognise the authorisation requested.”
Earlier on Sunday, there were social media reports of increased security and identity checks for worshippers entering churches for a weekly mass.
Some also posted about access to churches being blocked in certain neighbourhoods of Kinshasa ahead of the demonstration.
Kinshasa is under siege today. Snipers, presidential guards and other M23 are scrutinizing every worshipper going to church this morning.
No internet no sms services.
Welcome to Pyongyang of Africa. @nikkihaley @IntlCrimCourt@USEmbKinshasa @UEenRDC @BartOuvry #2018SansKabila
— Leja Litho (@LithoLeja) December 31, 2017
It’s fact! Tanks and other armored vehicles and armed soldiers are deployed at all strategic churches in #Kinshasa and all night they firing in the air to scare off people who are going to church in the morning #DRC #RDC
— #Passion4Tech #RDC (@muktech) December 31, 2017
Tensions have been high in the DRC over the past year. Anti-Kabila protests have met a heavy police response and often turned violent.
A presidential election was meant to take place in November 2016, but officials said the vote was postponed because of deadly clashes in the Kasai region and logistical hurdles.
Kabila, who took office after his father’s assassination in 2001, has been in power for the past 16 years. According to the constitution, he cannot seek a third term.
Fresh elections are now slated for December 23, 2018.