Congo asks companies to block social media before anti-Kabila protests

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo have asked telecoms companies to block social media networks from Monday, apparently to thwart protests against plans by President Joseph Kabila to stay in power beyond the end of his mandate.

Providers including Vodacom, Orange and Airtel did not immediately comment on whether they would comply, but one industry executive said all companies had signed an agreement to respect national security injunctions.

The country’s top court has extended Kabila’s tenure beyond the end of his two-term limit in the wake of a deal between the government and some opposition leaders to delay a vote in November to choose a successor until April 2018.

The government blocked social media networks and the Internet during protests in January 2015, justifying the measure as necessary to prevent rumors that could fuel violence. Human rights groups criticized the decision.

Kabila took power in 2001 and a campaign by the opposition to force him to step down has led to years of sporadic demonstrations and arrests. More than 50 died in protests in September and a similar number died in January 2015.

The request to block social media was made in a letter by the Regulatory Authority of the Post and Telecommunications of Congo (ARPTC), a copy of which was seen by Reuters. It listed Facebook, Twitter, Skype, YouTube and LinkedIn as services that should be blocked temporarily.

The government spokesman and telecommunications minister could not immediately be reached for comment.

In November, police in Kinshasa fired tear gas to disperse opposition supporters seeking to defy a ban on public protests and rally against Kabila, and the signals of two radio broadcasters were disabled.

Opposition leaders called new protests for this month.

Reporting By Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by Amedee Mwarabu Kiboko; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Janet Lawrence