2023 elections and internet shutdowns watch

#KeepItOn Election Watch 2023


Update: 2023 saw Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition campaign, monitor, and engaged with government officials, civil society actors, industry players, and other stakeholders in at least 18 countries hosting elections. 

Through open letters, stakeholder dialogues, capacity building trainings, and workshops under our Election Watch campaign, we  pushed back against, and shone a spotlight on,  election-related shutdowns. 

In a positive development, the coalition documented only one election-related shutdown in Gabon last year, while the governments of Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Sierra Leone made commitments to ensure unhindered access to the internet and digital platforms during and after elections.

Governments around the world continue to weaponize internet shutdowns during elections to disconnect, disenfranchise, and deny people their right to participatory democracy.

The global #KeepItOn coalition — uniting over 300 civil society organizations — monitors, documents, and pushes back against internet shutdowns across the globe. Our data doesn’t lie: authorities keep switching off the internet during key national events such as elections, infringing the human rights of millions in the process.

Election-related shutdowns prevent voters from accessing or sharing essential information, decreasing the fairness, credibility, and transparency of elections. They can empower incumbent regimes to control the narrative throughout the electoral period, undermining the electorate’s ability to make informed decisions, access polling resources, and fully shape their nation’s future.

In 2022, we documented two election-related shutdowns, in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Although this was a significant improvement compared to six incidents recorded in 2021, authorities in both countries interfered with electoral processes and made it hard for journalists, election observers, and voters to access information. In a more positive development, activists in African countries are successfully pushing back. Kenyan authorities safeguarded internet access during the highly contested 2022 presidential elections. In 2021, Benin and The Gambia kept the internet on throughout their respective elections, despite fears authorities would shut it down.

The #KeepItOn coalition engages with governments and stakeholders in countries where elections are upcoming, to ensure authorities make internet access a prerequisite for free, fair, and transparent elections.

Here are the countries on our radar for 2023, along with information on how you can support our efforts to #KeepItOn:



March, October, and November, referendum, legislative, and legislative runoff

Update: the government announced it is postponing the election to 2024. The #KeepItOn coalition will continue monitoring the development of the situation.

Why we’re watching:

In 2017, Malian authorities banned access to Twitter and Facebook, and in 2020 they disabled broadband and mobile connectivity during protests. As Mali transitions to civilian rule after a military coup, ensuring open discourse and free speech online is critically important. With multiple milestone elections scheduled for 2023, keeping the internet and social media platforms accessible will safeguard participatory democracy throughout the year and beyond.


October, general elections

Update: the government announced it is postponing the election to 2024. The #KeepItOn coalition will continue monitoring the development of the situation.

Why we’re watching:

Pakistan is a repeat offender, having shut down the internet multiple times over the years during important national events such as protests and holidays. In 2018, the government cut off the internet three times in a single week. Last year, Pakistan once again shut down the internet during widespread protests. With elections scheduled to take place in October this year, the #KeepItOn coalition is watching for disruptions and keeping the spotlight on Pakistan.


November: Somaliland, presidential elections

Update: Election was postponed to 2024 so we will be watching.

Why we’re watching:

In an attempt to stop protests and silence dissent, authorities of the self-declared independent state, Somaliland, shut down internet access in August 2022. In 2017, the electoral commission ordered phone and internet service providers to block access to social media platforms, including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Instagram, to restrict the spread of hate speech and “fake news.” With exact election dates yet to be announced, the #KeepItOn coalition urges Somaliland to prioritize unfettered access to the internet and digital platforms before, during, and after elections.


December, 2023: Togo, legislative elections

Update: Election was postponed to 2024 so we will be watching accordingly. 

Why we’re watching:

Togolese authorities have used internet shutdowns to muzzle free speech during protests, as well as to interfere with its last general elections in 2020. As the country prepares to hold regional elections this year, the government must uphold the ECOWAS Court ruling following the 2017 shutdowns and #KeepItOn at all times.


Democratic Republic of the Congo

December 20: Democratic Republic of the Congo, general elections

Update: Prior to the elections, authorities in the DRC publicly committed to ensuring uninterrupted internet access prior to the elections on December 20, 2023; a commitment they fulfilled throughout the voting period and during the announcement of presidential election results. 

Why we’re watching:

Under the previous Kabila-led administration between 2016 and 2018, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was a major perpetrator of shutdowns — including election-related shutdowns.

There has not been a recorded shutdown in DRC under the current government, and representatives have reached out to Access Now and partners to discuss policy measures, legal reforms, and best practices to improve digital rights and press freedom in the country. The #KeepItOn coalition is calling on DRC authorities to set the stage for reversing the trend toward authoritarianism across the region by ensuring people have access to the internet during DRC elections.


October 10, presidential elections, and November 14, runoff elections

Update: the #KeepItOn coalition did not document any case of internet shutdowns.

Why we’re watching:

In 2019, as protests built up momentum on the streets, authorities in Liberia imposed the country’s first recorded internet shutdown. This October, we’re urging authorities to uphold people’s rights by ensuring unfettered access to the internet and all digital communications platforms before, during, and after the presidential elections.


September 29, Parliamentary elections

Update: the #KeepItOn coalition did not document any case of internet shutdowns.

Why we’re watching:

In 2021, the government of Eswatini crossed an authoritarian line, and, for the first time, shut down the internet. They also blocked digital communication platforms. These were both rights-harming, misguided attempts to quell anti-government protests.


August 26, general election

Update: The government of Gabon shut down the internet on Saturday, August 26, when polling drew to a close. Internet access was restored on Wednesday, August 30, following a military coup which annulled the election results and deposed the Ali Bongo government. 

Why we’re watching:

In 2016, the government of Gabon shut down the internet as protests against the re-election of president Ali Bongo expanded throughout the country. Again in 2019, authorities flipped the kill switch following a military coup attempt against the Bongo-led government. Authorities in Gabon must commit to #KeepItOn, upholding people’s fundamental rights during the 2023 legislative and general elections.


August 23, 2023, general elections

Update: The #KeepItOn coalition did not document any incidents of shutdown during elections in Zimbabwe. However, we denounce the police raids on data centers and confiscation of digital tools and equipment belonging to civil society actors and election monitors in the country.

Why we’re watching:

The government of Zimbabwe has interfered with people’s right to free speech on multiple occasions over several years, imposing internet shutdowns to quell protests. As the country prepares for its general elections this year, authorities must cease this attack on basic rights and #KeepItOn throughout the election period and beyond.


June 25, Guatemala, general election

Update: Even though there was no report of internet shutdown during the election, tensions are on the rise as pro-democracy protesters flooded the streets in Guatemala city and other places of the country after the Attorney-General Consuelo Porras attempted to prevent the president-elect Bernardo Arévalo from taking the office on the inauguration day. The #KeepItOn coalition will continue monitoring the development of the situation.

Why we’re watching:

While the #KeepItOn coalition has not previously recorded any internet shutdowns in Guatemala, concerns over the independence of electoral authorities and increased harassment of journalists and judges investigating corruption have put the country on our watch list. Internet shutdowns are often a bold next step when states start escalating control over freedom of expression and right to assembly. We will be watching Guatemala during this election period to ensure internet access for all.

Sierra Leone

June 24, presidential election

Update: The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of an internet shutdown in Sierra Leone.

Why we watched:

In August 2022, Sierra Leone’s government shut down the internet to silence anti-government protests. In 2018, they flipped the kill switch to stop election results from being disseminated. That’s why, during the presidential elections, the #KeepItOn coalition will be keeping a close eye on whether Sierra Leone’s authorities #KeepItOn.


May 14, general election

Update: The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of an internet shutdown in Turkey.

Why we watched:

While the #KeepItOn coalition has not previously documented any internet shutdowns during elections in Turkey, the country has a history of muzzling dissentcracking down on free speech, and blocking communication apps and websites. In February 2023, after a devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria, Turkish authorities throttled Twitter to mute criticism of their response efforts, preventing people from using the platform to share vital updates in the wake of the disaster. As Turkey heads into high-stakes presidential and parliamentary elections, the #KeepItOn coalition will be watching closely to make sure authorities protect people’s rights by upholding unrestricted access to the internet and all digital communication platforms throughout the electoral period.


May 14, general election

Update: The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of an internet shutdown in Thailand.

Why we watched:

Although Thailand has no history of internet shutdowns during elections, authorities have been exerting an increasingly tighter grip over online expression in order to suppress dissent. In 2021, authorities abused laws and regulations to tighten restrictions on what people say online, and in 2022, it emerged that attackers were spying on individuals critical of the government using NSO Group’s notorious Pegasus spyware. As people head to the polls, it is vital they have free, open, and secure internet access to stay informed and fully participate in the democratic process.


March 31, parliamentary election

Update: The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of an internet shutdown in Turkmenistan.

Why we watched:

Authorities in Turkmenistan have been quick to hit the kill switch, repeatedly plunging the nation into digital darkness to quell protests in 2021, as well as during the 2022 national elections. Since Turkmenistan is a repeat offender, we are urging the government to cease any further interference and censorship as the country votes for its legislators.


March 23, parliamentary election

Update: The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of an internet shutdown in Cuba.

Why we watched:

In 2021, Cuba’s government cut internet access completely to suppress dissent after people marched in the streets to demand access to essential products and services such as food, water, medicine, and COVID-19 vaccines. Then, in July and September of 2022, there were more complete shutdowns during protests over ongoing power outages.


March 19, legislative election

Update: The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of an internet shutdown in Kazakhstan.

Why we watched:

Authorities in Kazakhstan are repeat offenders when it comes to switching off the internet during critical national events, imposing multiple shutdowns in 2022 during protests and the country’s presidential election.

Coupled with numerous human rights violations, such shutdowns makes it difficult to hold Kazakhstani authorities to account for their actions. Legislative elections are scheduled for March 19 and the government cannot repeat its flagrant abuse of power.


February 25 and March 11, general and gubernatorial elections

Update: The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of an internet shutdown in Nigeria.

Why we watched:

In June 2021, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, responded to Twitter removing one of his posts by taking the unprecedented step of banning access to the platform for over seven months. This ban significantly impacted the free expression rights of millions of people. The #KeepItOn coalition supported a complaint filed by a number of civil society organizations in Nigeria which challenged the ban before the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS Court), securing a victory for freedom of expression.The court ruled that the shutdown was unlawful and violated Nigerians’ rights.

We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to #KeepItOn during the upcoming elections.


January 8, legislative election

Update: The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of an internet shutdown in Benin.

Why we watched:

During its 2021 election, Benin upheld fundamental rights by keeping the internet open and secure. However, the country’s previous track record of interfering with access to the internet and social media during national events, including a blanket shutdown in 2019, has placed it on our radar. We urge authorities in Benin to stay on track by ensuring all people can exercise their fundamental and democratic rights.


Join the #KeepItOn movement

Since we started the #KeepItOn campaign in 2016, Access Now and our coalition partners have worked together to fight against internet shutdowns globally.

We engage with diverse stakeholders — from governments to journalists, election observers to internet service providers — to advance unhindered internet access throughout elections, holding governments, telecommunication and social media companies, and other actors who facilitate these flagrant rights violations accountable. We’ve helped people in Kenya, Ghana, Benin, Iraq, and elsewhere push back against shutdowns and prepare for circumventing them, assisting them in staying online.

Civil society organizations can join our coalition today and be part of the global movement. Learn more about the #KeepItOn coalition and how you can join to push back against shutdowns.

Connect with us to help fight shutdowns in your country

Advocate against election shutdowns

We rely on a global, informed network of people on the ground to help detect and fight internet shutdowns. If you see a shutdown threat, use the #KeepItOn hashtag to help flag it. If you would like to lend your support in the fight against shutdowns our #KeepItOn election toolkit is for you.

Learn about and prepare for election shutdowns

Are you an election observer, activist, journalist, blogger, or someone else interested in the impact of shutdowns on democratic processes? Want to know how to prepare for disruptions? Read and share our internet shutdowns and election handbook.

Stop election shutdowns in your country

If you would like to collaborate with us ahead of elections in your country this year, please reach out to #KeepItOn Campaign Manager Felicia Anthonio at felicia [at] accessnow.org. We can offer you opportunities to help, such as training legislators, election observers, journalists, and more.

Help us document the harm of election shutdowns

Storytelling can be an extremely powerful advocacy tool. If you’ve experienced an internet shutdown, consider sharing your experience as part of
Access Now’s Shutdown Impact Stories project. Use this form (available in several languages), and your story could help inform policy change, challenge shutdown orders in courts, and raise awareness about the threats and harms of shutdowns globally.