#IAmTheSudanRevolution: Support for Sudan amid internet blackout

Sudanese abroad are using social media to raise awareness about a violent crackdown on protesters by Sudan's military.

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    #IAmTheSudanRevolution: Support for Sudan amid internet blackout
    A Sudanese protester holds a national flag as he stands on a barricade along a street, demanding that the country's Transitional Military Council hand over power to civilians [Reuters]

    Sudanese around the world have been taking to social media to raise awareness of a violent crackdown on protesters in Sudan amid a partial but crippling internet blackout in the country. 

    Under the #IAmTheSudanRevolution hashtag, social media users are showing support for the ongoing demonstrations and pressuring the international community to pay more attention to events in Sudan.

    On Monday, the country's capital, Khartoum, was the scene of a violent dispersal of a protest camp by the ruling military, in which dozens were killed. 

    Since then, access to mobile internet has been entirely shut down, according to The Internet Society, an NGO. In a country where the majority of users access the internet through mobile devices, this has left many completely cut off from the online world, with the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD) describing the situation as "total internet outage". 

    The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) - a trade union that was influential in earlier protests that led to the overthrow of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir - has encouraged people to use the hashtag "as widely as possible".

    Now a leading voice in the protests, the SPA said on Thursday that the internet blackout is a means of isolating the country and burying "the truth".

    Sudan's large and widely-dispersed diaspora heard the call and the hashtag is now trending in several countries, including Kenya, Canada and the United Kingdom, where it has been included in more than 123,000 tweets.

    'My people cannot die in vain'

    Amna, a Sudanese doctor based in the UK, joined Twitter recently and has been posting exclusively about events in Sudan.

    "I hope that this way we can shed some light on the situation and the international pressure can at least restore back the internet to the Sudanese people," she told Al Jazeera.

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    In line with the message of solidarity behind the hashtag, many posts express support for Sudan and those protesting, but anger towards the military, which took control after toppling al-Bashir, is also apparent. 

    "My people cannot die in vain, cannot die in silence under an internet blackout," author Safia Elhillo said in a post on Twitter, describing Monday's events as a "massacre". 

    "My people deserve dignity, deserve freedom, deserve for the world to know us and our fight."

    At least 108 people have been killed and more than 500 wounded since Monday, according to the CCSD, while a health ministry official has been quoted as saying the death toll stood at 61.

    The CCSD also said 40 bodies were pulled from the Nile River on Tuesday and taken to an unknown location by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

    However, without internet access and amid a tightening of restrictions on the press - which saw Al Jazeera's journalists ordered not to report from the country - verifying the varying death tolls is challenging. 

    'The world needs to wake up'

    Frustration at an international community that some feel has lost interest after an initial wave of attention following the end of al-Bashir's rule is also apparent in many of the posts. 

    Referencing a widely-shared photo of a woman in a white traditional dress and large gold earrings standing on top of a car leading protest chants, medical student Eithar Mustafa said: "Sudan is only interesting when its wearing a toub and pretty earrings. But when it's drowning in blood, it is nothing but an irrelevant 3rd world country," she said in a post on Twitter. 

    Mustafa, who described the first days of protests as a "glimpse of hope", recently moved from Khartoum to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the instance of her family after her university was forced to close amid the instability. 

    Now watching from afar, she describes looking for updates on Sudan amid the internet blackout as "constantly checking an empty fridge". 

    "The worst thing about the situation is that some of the people in Sudan don't realise how dangerous it is. I have heard stories about people leaving to get food and getting caught in a crossfire. It's really devastating not to be able to warn them," she told Al Jazeera. 

    "I have never felt so helpless. I am terrified that I'll wake up to the news that someone close to me has been killed. Is that normal? To be in constant fear of losing your loved ones? The world needs to wake up to what's going on in my country. My people need them, I need them." 

    Unintended consequences

    While some messages are personal, others have attempted to record the killings, beatings, rapes and lootings reportedly being carried out by the military and RSF.

    Despite the blackout, a brief scroll through the posts tagged with #IAmTheSudanRevolution reveals images of bodies pooled in blood and videos that appear to show beatings. 

    Internet shutdowns are relatively common in Africa during elections but in the years following the Arab Spring, where social media was influential in toppling several leaders, the blackouts have been increasingly used to silence protest movements.

    "The Arab Spring was an awakening for governments. Governments realised that people can use social media without passing through the government-controlled media," Dawit Bekele, director of the Internet Society's Africa bureau, told Al Jazeera.

    "Governments have become more and more afraid of social media since the Arab Spring." 

    Bekele added that aside from disrupting the flow of information to and from Sudan, an internet shutdown would likely cause further damage to the country's already flagging economy by putting off investors and disrupting the lives of citizens.

    "It will only aggravate the grievances of the people because today there are very few economic activities that don't depend on the internet and shutting it down will really harm people's livelihoods, so they won't be more allied to the government. They will revolt more," he said. 

    Abuagla Abusinn, a Sudanese activist based in Washington, also believes that the protests will continue despite the blackout.

    "It's frustrating, sad and making us angry but we are still holding on tight to our dreams of freedom and continuing our non-violent resistance and civil disobedience," he told Al Jazeera.

    "The world is moving towards human rights, democracy and freedom. We, the Sudanese people, are looking forward to these rights." 

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News