afrol News, 21 April - As election observers report large irregularities in Sudan's first multi-party polls in 24 years, civil society groups are being blocked away from their internet tool monitoring the elections and their result.
Access to the "Sudan Vote Monitor" website, a collaborative platform created by Sudanese civil society with the aim of facilitating independent monitoring and reporting of the current elections and their results, has been partially or totally blocked for the past six days, watchdogs today warn.
The elections, which began on 11 April and which are the first multiparty general elections in Sudan since 1986, have been marked by allegations of irregularities, according to international observers.
The monitoring website was to assist Sudanese activists in monitoring the polls. As connections were working properly, Sudanese citizens were able to send information to "Sudan Vote Monitor" by going to the website, or by sending email or SMS messages. Visitors to the site could upload videos and establish links to social networks or to Sudanese online media.
The pro-democracy project aimed at increasing transparency in the Sudanese elections by allowing normal citizens to report from their place of residence, whether the poll was conducted badly or well. It was expected that by now, local election results should start ticking in on the website, but the "Sudan Vote Monitor" has now been censored.
According to one of the website's spokesmen, Fareed Zein, "Our technology is the closest thing to a real-time snapshot of what is happening on the ground during the elections. Users will have access to up-to-date information including streaming video from all over Sudan, everywhere from an election centre in Khartoum to a polling station in Juba, or a remote corner of the country."
Operated by various Sudanese NGOs such as Sudan Vote Monitor and the Asmaa Society for Development, "Sudan Vote Monitor" uses volunteers and open source software provided by Ushahidi that allows distributed data to be gathered and visualised on a map or timeline. Created in 2008 to enable Kenyans to locate post-election violence, the Ushahidi platform has since been used in other countries such as Haiti to assist post-earthquake relief work.
The censorship of the vote monitoring website has caused local and international protest. The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) today demanded "the immediate and total unblocking of this website. Respect for freedom of expression is an essential condition for the holding of free and fair elections."
"At time when criticism is coming from all quarters, this act of censorship is reinforcing doubts about the transparency of these elections," RSF added. "It sets a dangerous precedent for other upcoming votes, such as the crucial referendum on self-determination for the south that is supposed to be held by next January."
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