Thursday, December 2, 2021

South Sudan Activists Say Phones Were Compromised Ahead of Planned Protests

Political activists in South Sudan say the mobile phone carrier Zain South Sudan illegally disrupted their telephone service ahead of a planned anti-government demonstration, impairing their communications.

People’s Coalition on Civil Action Coalition member Rajab Muhandis said that when activists tried to access his WhatsApp messages on August 29 – the eve of the planned protest in Juba – he received messages that their numbers were registered on other phones.

Zain South Sudan has denied the allegation of copying SIM cards.

But activists say the move made it impossible for them to communicate with each other.

“Zain copied the SIM cards of coalition members and those numbers were then activated and used over the telephone,” Muhandis told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

“Since then, those numbers are active and if you communicate with these lines, the message goes, indicating that they are being used in the telephone and there is no other company that is copying these numbers except Zain. Maybe,” said Muhandis.

Activists say the protests intensified amid deliberate internet shutdowns and warnings of dire consequences against the organizers if the protests took place.

Activists say the phone company was part of a government-led effort to crack down on them and stop the planned protests.

Coalition member Joseph Akol Meyer said he realized his SIM card had been tampered with when he received a message saying his phone was registered on a different device.

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“What the Zain company has done is immoral, unprofessional, criminal and endangering the lives of people,” he said. “The people who were in that contact were compromised and the state has contacted some of them because they were sending me messages that were going to the state.”

When the maker tried to call his number from another phone, he said that the call was made but not on his phone.

Activists said they were planning legal action against Jain South Sudan.

Wilson Ladu, technical director of Zain South Sudan, said the company does not exploit users’ communications.

“Our customers, their lines are secure, in fact we in Zain, we don’t tap,” Ladu told South Sudan in Focus. “We don’t have the right to tap and technically you can’t have the same number duplicate as this address. You can’t have two addresses.”

Ladu said that the company has not received any complaint from the workers.

Juba residents told Reuters that mobile data was not available on South African mobile operator MTN Group’s network the night before the planned protests, and the next day it was blocked on Zain Group as well.

Alp Tokar, director of Netblox, a London-based group that tracks Internet disruptions, said it detected “significant disruption in Internet service beginning Sunday evening in South Sudan, including major cellular networks.”

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