Eswatini’s biggest mobile operator, MTN, has been sued after the company cut off users’ access to the Internet on 29 June in line with a government directive.
JSE-listed MTN Group, which owns 30% of MTN Eswatini, said on Friday that it is one of several respondents cited in the legal action. Others include the state-controlled Eswatini Mobile and Eswatini Telecommunications as well as acting Prime Minister Themba Masuku and his communications minister. Eswatini was previously known as Swaziland and its government is an absolute monarchy.
MTN confirmed that the legal action is aimed at “the immediate restoration of Internet services in the country”. The action was brought by the Institute for Democracy and Leadership (Ideal) as well as several youth organisations. The matter was heard by the high court on Eswatini on Friday and the respondents were granted leave to file papers next Tuesday, 6 July.
“The application follows a directive on 29 June from the Eswatini Communications Commission to MTN Eswatini and other operators to suspend access to social media and online platforms until further notice,” MTN said.
“After carefully assessing the directive, and in line with its licence conditions and the group’s digital human rights due diligence framework, MTN Eswatini implemented the directive.”
The government ordered the operators, including MTN, to suspend access to social media — and the Internet generally — after the impoverished landlocked nation was rocked by pro-democracy protests. Protestors are demanding the departure of King Mswati III and the implementation of a democratic dispensation.
“MTN Eswatini continues to engage with relevant stakeholders to limit the duration of the service disruption and is reviewing the details of the court application in consultation with its advisers,” MTN said.
“MTN Group is committed to respecting human rights and endeavours to protect the rights of all people who use our services in the jurisdictions in which we operate in accordance with globally defined standards.”
Asked by TechCentral for a copy of the group’s digital human rights due diligence framework, MTN said this is not a public document. However, it pointed to a summary position statement available on its website (PDF). — (c) 2021 NewsCentral Media