April 7, 2021
#KeepIton: Open letter to keep the internet open and secure during elections in the Republic of Benin
Your Excellency Patrice Athanase Guillaume Talon, President of the Republic of Benin
CC: Aurelie A. Soule Zoumarou, Ministre du numérique et de la digitalisation du Bénin (MND); Alain Orounla, Ministre de la communication et de la poste; Rémi Prosper Moretti, Président de la Haute Autorité de l’Audiovisuel et de la Communication (HAAC); Flavien Bachabi, Autorité de Régulation des Communications Électroniques et de la Poste (ARCEP-BENIN); Uche Ofodile, Chef de la direction, MTN Benin; Akogbeto Jean Claude, Gestionnaire principal – Réglementation et gestion des parties prenantes, MTN Benin; Ahmed EL Attat, Directeur Général de MOOV – Moov Africa; Marc-André AkinOlu Loko, Directeur général, Bénin Télécoms – Société béninoise d’infrastructures numériques (SBIN); Robert Aouad, Directeur Général d’ ISOCEL Bénin; Deo Gratias Tonouhewa, Directeur général de JENY SAS
Nations across Africa, and the world, are intentionally shutting down the internet when people need it the most — during elections and important national events. This election, we urge the Republic of Benin to #KeepItOn.
We, the undersigned organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a network that unites over 240 organizations from 105 countries that work to end internet shutdowns* globally — write to urgently appeal to you, President Patrice Talon, to ensure that the internet, social media platforms, and all other communication channels are open, secure, and accessible throughout the election period, scheduled for April 11, in the Republic of Benin and thereafter.
With opposition forces already contesting the legitimacy of elections due to recent arrests and prosecution of potential candidates, Benin is high on the coalition’s radar, and the world is watching to ensure the rights of people are upheld this election period.
The internet and social media platforms play a critical role in enhancing participatory governance in democratic society. They provide space for communicating, public debate, seeking information on election processes and candidates, reporting and documenting events and outcomes, and holding governments accountable for their actions — including their promises to the people. Journalists, human rights defenders, election observers, civil society actors, and other relevant stakeholders count on the internet to monitor and report on elections, and this facilitates transparency, inclusivity and openness in the process.
Benin’s history of shutdowns
The #KeepItOn coalition appeals to you, President Talon, to ensure that access to the internet and all digital communication platforms remain open and secure for the people of Benin before, during, and after the 2021 elections.
Unfortunately, Benin has joined the growing list of countries weaponizing internet shutdowns to silence the population during important national events. We call on the government of Benin to not repeat the actions of 2019, when you shut down the internet during the parliamentary elections, initially blocking several social media and other online platforms, and later implementing a national internet blackout. The upcoming elections are an important moment for the people of Benin to decide their next leader, and it is essential for the government to adopt measures to ensure that the election process is inclusive, free, and fair. Internet shutdowns during critical times like elections may instigate violence, and spur the spread of misinformation, as reliable channels for fact-checking become inaccessible.
Internet shutdowns harm human rights, disrupt emergency services, and cripple economies
Research shows that internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand. Shutting down the internet during a deadly pandemic would add fuel to the fire. Internet shutdowns violate fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and opinion, access to information, press freedom and freedom of peaceful assembly. By disrupting the free flow of information, shutdowns exacerbate any existing tensions in the society and increase the likelihood of protests, as well as the concealment of potential violence and human rights violations perpetrated by both state and non-state actors against people.
Internet shutdowns cut off access to vital, timely, and life-saving information, as well as to emergency services, plunging whole communities into fear and confusion.
Internet shutdowns contravene international human rights laws and standards
The Republic of Benin has ratified regional and international frameworks such as the legally-binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which provide for the protection and promotion of the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, assembly, and access to information, both offline and online.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Resolution from 2016 recognizes the “importance of the internet in advancing human and people’s rights in Africa, particularly the right to freedom of information and expression.” The ACHPR/Res. 362 (LIX) 2016 also condemns the “emerging practice of State Parties interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the internet, social media, and messaging services.” Moreover, UN experts and high-level officials — including the UN Secretary-General — formally affirm that, “blanket Internet shutdowns and generic blocking and filtering of services are considered by United Nations human rights mechanisms to be in violation of international human rights law.”
Telecom companies must respect human rights
Telecommunications companies and businesses have a responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to respect human rights, prevent or mitigate potential harms, and provide remedy for harms they cause or contribute to. In the case of enterprises like Benin Telecom Limited with state investment, “States should take additional steps to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that are owned or controlled by the State.”
Telcos operating in Benin — including MTN Benin, Moov Benin and ISOCEL Bénin — have a responsibility to provide quality, open, and secure access to the internet and digital communication tools throughout the elections and beyond. Internet shutdowns — whether in Benin or other countries — must never be allowed to become the new normal, and we encourage Benin enterprises to integrate these practices for responding to censorship and network disruption requests in all markets where you operate.
As organizations that believe in the power of the internet as an enabler of all other human rights, we are confident that access to the internet, social media, and mobile money platforms during the elections in Benin has the potential to foster transparency around the upcoming elections and ensure active citizen and other stakeholder participation.
We respectfully request that you use the important positions of your offices to:
- Publicly assure the people of the Republic of the Benin that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, will remain open, accessible, inclusive and secure across Benin throughout the election and thereafter;
- Order internet service providers operating in the country to provide everyone with high-quality, secure, and unrestricted internet access throughout the election period and thereafter; and
- Order internet service providers operating in the country to inform internet users of any potential disruptions and to take all reasonable steps to fix any identified disruptions likely to impact the quality of service they receive.
Kindly let us know in what way we can assist.
Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms Coalition
Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation (AODIRF)
African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
Bareedo Platform Somalia
Bloggers of Kenya (BAKE)
Bloggers of Zambia
Centre for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP-Liberia)
Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Digital Rights Kashmir
Gambia Press Union (GPU)
International Press Centre (IPC)
Internet Sans Frontieres (Internet Without Borders)
Internet Society Benin
Liberia Information Technology Student Union
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Namibia Media Trust (NMT)
Open Net Association (Korea)
Organization of the Justice Campaign
Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Women ICT Advocacy Group (WIAG)
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
*An internet shutdown is defined as an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information. See more at: https://www.accessnow.org/keepiton.