Update: 4/3/2020: Reports indicate that Ethiopia has lifted internet and communications restrictions in the areas they were imposed. To protect public health and human rights, it remains urgent to maintain an open and secure internet in every country, especially where authorities are deliberately cutting access, throttling the internet, or blocking apps and services.
As the world deals with the spread of COVID-19 (“coronavirus”), reliable, correct information is one of the most important tools people have to protect themselves. Access to accurate information will save lives, help us protect ourselves and our loved ones, and allow us to carry on and care for one another in our communities. During this crisis and beyond, an accessible, secure, and open internet will play a significant role in keeping us safe.
Attempts by governments to cut or restrict access to the internet, block social media platforms or other communications services, or slow down internet speed deny people access to information, just when it is of paramount importance that we stop the spread of the virus. As part of the global #KeepItOn coalition, we reiterate: any and all deliberate interference with the right to access and share information — a human right and vital to any public health and humanitarian response to COVID-19 — must end immediately.
#Ethiopia – join the call on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to restore access to the internet in the Oromia region
Since January 2019, Ethiopia has imposed an internet shutdown in the Oromia region, amid conflict between government forces and armed groups. The spread of COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic, and Ethiopia has since confirmed several cases. There are already many people in quarantine and self-isolation. Amid fears of the spread of the virus, the government has been publishing content online, and traditional news media outlets are instructing citizens on handwashing and hygiene and other precautionary measures.
Publishing information online and via the media makes sense, but the government is also denying access to this valuable information to the population affected by internet shutdowns, and as a result, that population may further escalate the spread of the virus. As we have seen in recent days in China, governments can block access to information regarding COVID-19. In blocking such information, there are severe consequences for public health. Unless people take action, these consequences will only get more severe with the passage of time. We therefore call on the government of Ethiopia and particularly Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, to restore free and full access to the internet in the Oromia region immediately and keep it on.
#India – join the call on the government of India to restore high-speed internet connection in Kashmir and Jammu
In August 2019, the Indian government shut down the internet in the Jammu and Kashmir regions. After over 175 days of internet shutdowns, the government has enabled 2G mobile data connections in Kashmir and Jammu region. Although 2G internet connection is better than no connection at all, this means that many people cannot meaningfully access information online.
As the COVID-19 cases in India multiply, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have the right to access vital information that can save their lives and help stop the spread of the virus. As of the date of this post, India currently has 125 confirmed cases, and at least three of those cases are in Jammu and Kashmir. Restricting internet speed and making it harder to access information online is directly countering the global fight against COVID-19, and the Indian government should restore unfettered access to the internet immediately.
#Myanmar – join the call to restore internet access in Rakhine and Chin states
Myanmar has had among the most prolonged internet shutdowns since 2019 in nine townships of Rakhine and Chin. The government’s military and armed groups are currently in violent armed conflict. In addition to the conflict restricting people’s ability to move around and receive government services, the internet blackout prevents people from getting informed, protecting themselves and their loved ones, and stopping the spread of the virus throughout their communities.
Information is power. The residents of Rakhine and Chin states can protect themselves, take precautionary measures, and follow the guidelines of the respective health officials if they have access to accurate information. We call on Ann Sang Sui Kee’s government to turn the internet back on and stop the information blackout at this critical time in the fight against COVID-19.
#Bangladesh – join the call to end the blackout in Rohingya refugee camps
In 2019 the Bangladeshi government shut down mobile internet connection in refugee camps where mostly Rohingyas reside. Refugees have been barred from using SIM cards and were forced into an internet blackout.
As of the date of this post, Bangladesh has ten confirmed cases of COVID-19. Places like refugee camps that are densely populated put people at greater risk; in the unfortunate event that someone falls ill, the virus could spread easily in the camps. Humanitarian missions and the response to a public health crisis in the digital age must ensure access to the internet, as a complement to food, shelter, and security. A secure, reliable, and open internet can help refugees and others learn about measures to prevent the spread of the disease. We call on the government of Bangladesh to help protect vulnerable people seeking refuge in the country by immediately ending all restrictions to internet access.
Follow our work on the protection of digital rights in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.