The Zambian government has restricted several social media platforms across the country, including direct messaging service WhatsApp.
Digital rights organization Access Now and internet monitor NetBlocks have confirmed the internet shutdown. Several internet services have been interrupted, such as the Zambian government-owned Zamtel, Airtel Zambia, Liquid Telecom, and MTN.
Voters on impacted networks in Zambia are using VPNs to communicate.
The restrictions come as the country heads out to the polls to vote in the general elections as President Edgar Lungu faces off against opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema for the third time.
Hichilema lost by around 100,000 votes in 2016 with an even narrower margin in a by-election the previous year, per Africa News.
Zambia’s Ministry of Information and Broadcast Services initially considered shutting down internet access in the run-up to election day to stop the spread of election misinformation if citizens “failed to use the cyberspace during this year’s election correctly,” per the Lusaka Times.
The restrictions will continue through Sunday when vote counts are expected to have ended.
Zambia’s Information and Broadcasting Services Permanent Secretary Amos Malupenga issued the following statement ahead of the elections.
“The government, therefore, expects citizens to use the internet responsibly. But if some people choose to abuse the internet to mislead and misinform, the government will not hesitate to invoke relevant legal provisions to forestall any breakdown of law and order as the country passes through the election period,” Malupenga said.
Polls are now closed, but votes are still allowed to be cast for anyone still in line.