Access Now, together with 39 international rights groups, including members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network of human rights organizations that work to end internet shutdowns — and partners in Belarus, is urgently calling on President Alexander Lukashenko (Alyaksandar Lukashenka) to ensure that internet access in Belarus remains open, accessible, and secure during the presidential elections on August 9, 2020. The appeal is made via an open letter sent to the government of Belarus on August 5, 2020.
We express concern over the deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus, including reports of alleged mobile internet jamming, arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, and harassment of human rights defenders and members of the political opposition in the country. These reported incidents of harassment are compounding in an atmosphere of fear and panic among the people of Belarus.
The petitioners deplore these acts of abuse as contributors to a lack of an open and active civic space in Belarus in the lead up to the elections, and appeal to the government to take urgent steps to end further human rights violations.
“For an election to be fair and democratic, people need to be allowed to access information, ask questions, and inform themselves before heading to the polls,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner, #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “Shutting down the internet during the upcoming elections will mean robbing people of their agency, denying them their right to participate in shaping their future, and snatching away any chance to hold their leaders accountable. We call on the government to keep it on.”
The letter calls on the Belarusian authorities to uphold fundamental human rights, including freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of the press, access to information, freedom of association, and to peaceful assembly — all of which are cornerstones of every democratic society during elections and beyond.
We urge President Lukashenko to consider the following recommendations in order to ensure transparency and active participation both offline and online in the upcoming elections:
- Ensure that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, remains open, accessible, and secure across Belarus throughout the elections;
- Order the release of all political prisoners and peaceful activists who are currently being held by the various security agencies in Belarus;
- Refrain from further threats and verbal violence against journalists and ensure that there is no further physical violence against journalists by the security forces, including while covering demonstrations and elections, and allow journalists to cover official events safely;
- Work in collaboration with the various internet service providers operating in Belarus to ensure that all people have access to quality, secure, free, and open internet throughout the election period and thereafter;
- Order the various ISPs operating in the country to inform internet users of any disruptions, and work around the clock to fix any identified disruptions likely to impact the quality of service they receive; and
- Uphold the fundamental human rights of the people of Belarus throughout the elections and thereafter.