Elections and internet shutdowns are a disaster for democracy.
Throughout 2021, the #KeepItOn coalition witnessed governments in Uganda, Zambia, Russia, Niger, and the Republic of the Congo hit the kill switch during elections, disconnecting millions of people from the internet — and their civic rights. When governments shut down the internet during elections, they rob people of their opportunity to participate in the democratic process. Without a fair, open, accessible internet, people — from voters to monitors, journalists to political opponents — cannot fully exercise their rights to access information, communicate, and hold authorities accountable for their actions. Internet shutdowns during elections:
- Create avenues for fraud, mishandling, and tampering of electoral processes and outcomes
- Reduce space for public debate and civic participation
- Interfere with the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and access to information
- Block channels of communication for voters, journalists, election observers, and all others targeted
- Disrupt electronic voting that relies on internet access
- Are a disaster for democracy
What elections are we watching in 2022?
February-March, and November-December: India, state legislative assembly elections in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, and Jammu and Kashmir
Why it’s on our list: In 2020, Indian authorities shut down the internet 109 times — more than any other nation on earth. They shut it down to stifle the growing #FarmersProtest, to issue authority over the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and as a disproportionate measure to curb cheating on national exams. They must not shut it down during the 2022 state level elections. Aggravating already stressful situations, these shutdowns were implemented amongst a serious uprooting of digital rights across the country, and against the backdrop of a global, unrelenting pandemic. The Indian parliamentary standing committee’s December 2021 report condemns the country’s ongoing use of internet shutdowns — and we will keep the pressure on until the government removes them from their authoritarian toolbox.
Who voted, and what happened?
November 20: Kazakhstan, extraordinary presidential elections
The #KeepItOn coalition received excessive reports of internet shutdowns before and after the presidential elections. This included targeted blocking of social media and communications platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Telegram, Instagram, and Signal, as well as preventing access to certain websites prior to the polls opening. On November 1, there was an apparent internet disruption that the government blamed on technical works. After the election, as authorities inaugurated the president on November 26, protestors on the streets of Astana were met with an internet shutdown. These shutdowns and blockings are attacks on people’s rights to participate in democracy through elections and protests. Why it’s on our list: Kazakhstan has a long history of internet shutdowns amidst important political events. The nationwide outage that was implemented in January 2022 had an extreme impact on the country’s residents and businesses, causing disruptions in mobile and debit payments services, leading to cash and food shortages. The subsequent and unprecedented civil unrest became the tipping point for national reform. Kazakhstan ran a constitutional referendum in June 2022 and is now preparing for extraordinary presidential elections in autumn that will reduce the presidency from two five-year terms, to a single seven-year one. As the elections approach, the #KeepItOn community will be keeping the pressure on authorities to #KeepItOn.
October 2: Brazil, general (president, vice president, and congress)
The #KeepItOn coalition received reports of authorities blocking messaging app, Telegram, in the build up to the elections. No government has the right to randomly interfere with people’s ability to communicate with each other. Why it’s on our list: While Brazil may not have a long history of internet shutdowns, in 2015 and 2016 a judge ordered internet service providers to block WhatsApp during a critical moment in the nation’s politics. The 2022 general elections are expected to be polarized. The digital environment in Brazil is currently rife with political disinformation and misinformation, much of it coming from the government itself — and that is exactly why we’re watching for any indications that the internet will be disrupted during these proceedings.
September 11: Russia, municipal
The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of internet shutdowns throughout the municipal elections. Why it’s on our list: President Vladimir Putin’s long history of online censoring through blocking, throttling, and shutting down the internet means the international community must keep pressure on the government this election. We will work hard to ensure a repeat of the 2021 vote, when the government — with the complicity of Big Tech — quashed free expression online, does not occur.
August 9: Kenya, general
The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of internet shutdowns throughout the general election. Why it’s on our list: Kenya remains one of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that has not deliberately shut down the internet during important national events. But as neighbors continue to arbitrarily hit the kill switch, the global community must support Kenya as a leader in its region. In 2021, Fred Matiangi, the Interior Cabinet Secretary, assured the people of Kenya on two separate occasions that the government will not shut down the internet or social media platforms during the coming elections. With internet shutdowns on the rise, public commitments like these are encouraging, and we urge the government to continue to make such assurances throughout the election period and beyond.
June 5: Kazakhstan, Constitutional referendum
The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of internet shutdowns throughout the Constitutional referendum. Why it’s on our list: The government of Kazakhstan shut down the internet nationwide in January 2022, to crush protests and provide cover for state violence, and the #KeepItOn coalition is calling on authorities and telecommunication providers to immediately restore full and permanent access to the internet. Last year, authorities hit the kill switch during anti-government protests demanding the release of political prisoners. In 2019, the government of Kazakhstan throttled and blocked social media platforms when opposition groups called for a protest to coincide with World War II victory celebrations that month. In 2018, authorities throttled the internet almost daily for approximately an hour, whenever opposition leader, Mukhtar Ablyazov, streamed on Facebook Live. As the referendum approaches, the #KeepItOn community will be keeping the pressure on authorities.
May 29: Colombia, presidential
The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of internet shutdowns throughout the May 29 election, however there were disruptions that Access Now is currently investigating. We will continue to monitor the runoff elections scheduled for June 19. Why it’s on our list: Possibly inspired by neighboring nations, the government of Colombia blocked or throttled internet access several times during protests in 2021. At the same time, journalists, activists, and others in the country have been facing a swelling wave of online surveillance and censorship. With a runoff is scheduled to be held on June 2022, the #KeepItOn coalition urges authorities to allow unfettered access to free, open, and secure internet throughout the elections.
April 9: The Gambia, legislative
The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of internet shutdowns throughout the legislative election. Why it’s on our list: Authorities in The Gambia upheld the fundamental rights of people across the country during last year’s presidential election by safeguarding internet access for all. However, the nation has a history of implementing internet shutdowns reaching back to 2016, and has had intermittent technical disruptions linked to an undersea cable connecting the country to the internet. The #KeepItOn coalition urges the authorities in the country to uphold the 2021 precedent, and ensure people across The Gambia can exercise their democratic rights online before, during, and after the April 9 elections.
February 27: Belarus, constitutional referendum
The #KeepItOn coalition received no reports of internet shutdowns throughout the referendum. Why it’s on our list: As “Europe’s last dictator,” Aleksandr Lukashenko prepares to take the final draft of the nation’s new constitution to a referendum, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition will be fighting to ensure the internet remains fair and open throughout this first national vote in Belarus since the heavily criticized 2020 presidential election and its widely disputed outcome. Belarus ranks high on the watch list, due to authorities’ tyrannical internet shutdowns and social media blockings during the 2020 mass protests, the growing attacks on civil society, and the suspicion that the government may have been involved in the grounding of Ryanair flight FR4978, and subsequent kidnapping of Belarusian journalist Raman Pratasevich, and partner, Sofia Sapega, last year. The people of Belarus have the constitutional right to freedom of expression.
March 12: Turkmenistan, presidential
An internet shutdown in Ashgabat lasted for approximately one hour, and coincided with the announcement of the election results, and preparations for the inauguration. A month after Turkmenistan’s President, Serdar Berdimuhamedow, came into office — amidst international criticism that the election was neither fair nor free — the new leader is plunging the country’s six million people into a complete informational vacuum. The international community must learn from recent history, and fight this move snatched directly from the authoritarian playbook. Why it’s on our list: Authorities in Turkmenistan use targeted internet shutdowns and blockings to control the nation’s narrative and censor the population. They are already blocking social media platforms like Facebook, international media outlets, Wikipedia, and other websites that host content critical of the regime, as well as tools such as VPNs that let people circumvent the censorship. Turkmenistan has a long history of rule by dictatorship, with allegations of rigged elections. In this election, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, President and Prime Minister of Turkmenistan, is expected to hand power over to his son, Serdar Kurbankuliyevich Berdymukhammetov, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister. An internet shutdown during the election would be yet another sign that elections in the country lack integrity.
What can we do? Resources and the fight to #KeepItOn
The #KeepItOn campaign is driven by global efforts to prepare, prevent, and respond to internet shutdowns around the world. For more information about the campaign and how it works, or to collaborate with us ahead of elections in your country this year, check out the #KeepItOn FAQs and our toolkit on how to advocate against shutdowns during elections.
Preparing for elections and internet shutdowns: Our Internet shutdown and election handbook outlines how election observers, diplomatic missions, human rights defenders, journalists and individuals can join the fight against internet shutdowns from actively monitoring and documenting shutdowns to circumventing them.
Need help during a shutdown? Civil society groups, activists, media organizations, journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders can contact our Digital Security Helpline for real-time, direct technical assistance.
Sharing shutdown stories: the impact of internet shutdowns on people’s lives cannot be quantified — they disrupt all aspects of daily lives, and create space for bad actors to perpetrate human rights abuses with impunity. You can help us expose these violations by sharing your stories with us. We amplify stories to highlight the human cost that internet shutdowns cause and hold authorities to account under our Shutdowns Stories project.
Still have questions about the #KeepItOn campaign and internet shutdowns? Listen to our Kill Switch podcast for more.