June 25, 2020 — Today, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice ruled that the September 2017 internet shutdown ordered by the Togolese government during protests is illegal and an affront to the applicants’ right to freedom of expression. The court ordered the government of Togo to pay two million CAF to the plaintiffs as compensation, and to take all the necessary measures to guarantee the implementation of safeguards with respect to the right to freedom of expression of the Togolese people.
“Congratulations to the civil society of Togo, who brought the world’s attention to this egregious censorship and held their government accountable for interfering with their work advancing the public interest and democratic values,” said Peter Micek, General Counsel at Access Now. “Digital rights are human rights, the court has declared, and Togo’s government must meet its commitments to protect human rights, online as offline.”
In 2019, Access Now led a coalition of eight organizations, namely the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), ARTICLE 19, Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), the NetBlocks Group, and The Paradigm Initiative (PI), who submitted a “friends of the court,” or amici curiae, brief in the lawsuit filed by Amnesty International Togo and other applicants. Attempts were made by the government of Togo to block the submission, but oral and written arguments by Access Now staff, including Natalia Krapiva and Laura O’Brien, our local counsel Oluwatosin S. Adegun of T&T Legal Practitioners, and other partners were successful in defending against efforts by Togo and convincing the Court to hear from interested third parties. Access Now also thanks barristers Anthony Jones and Can Yeginsu of 4 New Square for their pro bono legal assistance throughout the proceedings.
In our brief, we expressed concern around the growing trend of internet shutdowns globally and by West African nations in particular. Furthermore, we argued that the shutdown was inconsistent with regional and international frameworks and violated the fundamental human rights of the Togolese people.
The #KeepItOn coalition and Access Now welcome this landmark ruling denouncing internet shutdowns and upholding digital rights — a second of its kind within the last month. On June 3, the Jakarta State Administrative Court passed a similar judgement that the deliberate 2019 internet shutdowns in Papua and West Papua violated the country’s law.
“We are incredibly satisfied by the ECOWAS court ruling that blackouts in Togo were illegal,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner, #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “We are happy to see more rulings against internet shutdowns being issued by the courts across the globe, and view today’s outcome as a positive step towards ending internet shutdowns globally.”
Internet shutdowns are increasing and becoming more targeted. They are being used as a weapon of repression in a growing number of countries around the world, yet it is encouraging to see the courts are joining the global campaign to put an end to the arbitrary use of internet shutdowns to silence citizens. Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition encourages others to use the courts in the fight against internet shutdowns.