FXI slams Mozambique SMS 'shutdown'
Maputo - Vodacom Mozambique had violated Mozambicans' rights if reports were true that the cellphone operator obeyed a government order to shut down SMSing services to clients, the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) said on Saturday.
“If these allegations are proven to be true that the (Mozambican) state national communications authority ordered the shut down of text messaging, then we would certainly regard that as an infringement of both Mozambican citizens' rights to freedom of expression, FXI executive director Ayesha Kajee told Sapa.
"Particularly following on the events of last week and the past few weeks where viral messages campaigns have been instrumental in mobilising people to protest.
“Since Vodacom South Africa operates under the terms of South African law and the South African constitution, one would expect in the interest of best practise that their operations in other countries would adhere to similar standards as they do in South Africa and uphold people's basic rights,” said Kajee.
Independent news sheet Mediafax on Friday reported Mozambique's telecommunications regulator sent a letter to Vodacom Mozambique and state operator mCel last Monday ordering them to suspend SMSing facilites for clients.
The order was sent after a widespread viral SMS campaign fuelled three days of food riots at the start of September which killed 13.
Pay-as-you-go customers, the bulk of cellphone users in the country, could not send SMSes from Monday to Thursday. Contract customers could still send SMSes after negotiations between the operators and authorities, according to Mediafax.
Mozambican Communications Minister Paulo Zucula denied any orders were given to suspend SMS functions, while mCel declined to comment.
Neither Vodacom Mozambique nor Vodacom South Africa responded to enquiries by Sapa.
Mobile telecommunications revolutionised communications in Africa, especially in remote and underdeveloped areas, said Kajee.
“For the first time many people in the remote parts of the continent and underdeveloped areas of the world generally are able to access telecommunication fairly cheaply and without having to wait for expensive landline infrastructure.”
“It has revolutionised many aspects of people's lives, not least their ability to mobilise one another around specific political, civil and economic issues,” she continued.
“Because we feel very strongly that freedom of expression is a facilitative right, any limitations, particularly state limitations, on freedom of expression, we view in a very serious light, because we do feel it shuts down people's ability to access rights.”