Zimbabwe has shut down social media for 7 days straight, prompting claims it is trying to cover up deadly protests that killed at least 12 people

ZimbabweTOPSHOT - Angry protesters barricade the main route to Zimbabwe's capital Harare from Epworth township on January 14 2019 after announced a more than hundred percent hike in fuel prices. - Angry protesters barricaded roads with burning tyres and rocks in Zimbabwe on January 14 after the government more than doubled the price of fuel in a bid to improve supplies as the country battles its worst gasoline shortages in a decade.JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

  • Zimbabwe has blocked access to social media for seven days as deadly protests sweep the country which have killed at least 12 people.
  • Officials say the blackout is to stop protesters coordinating. Critics say it is to hide the true scale of death and devastation.
  • Riots in the country began after the government more than doubled the price of gas.
  • Last week Zimbabwe briefly disconnected the entire country from the entire, but has partially restored the non-social-media elements.

Zimbabwe's government has shut down social media for an entire week while the country is swept by deadly protests.

The government told Econet Wireless, the country's largest provider, on Tuesday to cut off social media access, a ban which is still in place. Sites including Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp are all banned.

According to critics and activists, the ban is an attempt to suppress news and images from the unrest, which has so far left at least 12 people dead. The government says the ban is for security reasons.

Zimbabwe protestPeople run at a protest as barricades burn during rainfall in Harare, Zimbabwe.Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

President Emmerson Mnangagwa more than doubled the price of petrol and diesel on January 14, and violent protests soon followed. So far, 12 people have been killed and 600 arrested, according to the BBC.

Zimbabwe shut down social media access on the second day of violence, January 15. It has been continuously unavailable since then.

During that period the government also closed off access to the internet as a whole. The first period lasted January 15 to January 17, and another, briefer total blackout took place on January 18.

Generic internet access was later restored, but access to WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook remains blocked.

Some people say they have been evading the blackout using virtual private networks (VPNs).

Zimbabwe EconetA Zimbabwean man speaks on his phone outside a branch of mobile service provider Econet Wireless in central Harare. Econet is the country's largest provider of internet.Reuters

Critics of the violence say the internet has been blocked to stop images of police violence spreading.

Professor Johnathan Moyo, Zimbabwe's former Minister of Higher & Tertiary Education, tweeted the blackout was "to cover up their atrocities."

Doug Coltart, a lawyer in Zimbabwe's capital Harare, said: "The internet shutdown has been [used] to cover up a massive operation of repression," the Guardian reported.

Zimbabwe's Times reported that critics said the government "sought to prevent images of its heavy-handedness in dealing with protesters from being broadcast around the world."

The Ministry of Information blamed the first blackout on Tuesday on internet "congestion," and government spokesperson George Charamba told state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation that the second blackout on Friday was because the internet is "the tool used to coordinate the violence."

Zimbabwe arrestsA policeman stands guard as some of the people arrested during demonstrations over the hike in fuel prices, make their court appearance at the magistrates courts in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Jan,16, 2019. Some dozens of people appeared in court and were charged with public violence and a human rights group in Zimbabwe says a few people were killed in clashes between demonstrators protesting fuel hikes and security forces who opened fire on some crowds.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Media Institute of Southern Africa submitted a lawsuit against the government on Monday over the internet blackout.

President Mnangagwa raised the price of fuel in an attempt to strengthen his government's financial position by ending fuel subsidies. Zimbabwe's economy has long been unstable, and the country is suffering from hyperinflation.

A gallon of gasoline increased from $5.60 a gallon to $15.20, and diesel went from $6.20 per gallon to $14.10, CNN reported.

The network said this means Zimbabwe the most expensive country in the world to fill a car.

On Sunday, President Mnangagwa tweeted he was cutting short a diplomatic trip in light of the protests.

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