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Access Now, together with 30 international human rights advocacy groups that form the #KeepItOn coalition, on Monday, May 18, 2020 sent a joint letter to the government of Burundi to ensure open, secure and stable access to the internet and social media platforms throughout the country’s presidential elections scheduled for May 20, 2020. The signatories appealed to the authorities in Burundi to consider the following recommendations to guarantee citizens’ active participation in the elections:
- Ensure that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, remains accessible throughout the elections
- Ensure that the Agence de Régulation et de Contrôle des Télécommunications (ARCT) and the Conseil National de la Communication take all the necessary regulatory measures to ensure internet service providers (ISPs) inform people of any form of disruption or interference in the provision of internet access
- Order the unblocking of all websites of independent media outlets that are currently inaccessible in the country
The groups also expressed serious concerns about the increased reports of human rights violations in Burundi, which has forced several journalists, activists, and opposition politicians into exile for fear of prosecution. These increased violations have resulted in shrinking civic space, making it almost impossible for people to actively participate in governance and access country-specific information.
In its letter, the KeepItOn coalition emphasized that internet shutdowns violate national and international frameworks such as the Constitution of the Republic of Burundi, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). Moreover, shutdowns disproportionately affect all users, and unnecessarily restrict access to information and emergency services communications during crucial moments. Shutdowns disrupt the free flow of information, contribute to confusion and disorder, and obstruct public safety.
We urge the authorities in Burundi to ensure that the 2020 elections will be void of any and all forms of interference — such as a network disruption — to enable voters to freely elect their leaders come Wednesday, May 20, 2020.
Globally, the emergence of the internet and social platforms have brought governance to the doorsteps of the citizenry. These platforms provide an avenue for people to easily access a pool of information and make informed decisions about how to engage in the election process.
“It is our hope that the authorities in Burundi will recognize the negative effect of internet shutdowns and social media blackouts on elections and refrain from clamping on these platforms during the upcoming elections. A network disruption in the course of elections raises doubts and brings into question the credibility of the outcome of elections.” says Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now.