April 7, 2021
#KeepIton open letter: the Republic of Chad must keep the internet open and secure during presidential elections
The Field Marshal of Chad Idriss Déby Itno, President of the Republic of Chad, Head of State
CC: Dr Idriss SALEH BACHAR, Ministre des Postes et de l’Economie Numérique (MPEN); Amb. Amine ABBA SIDICK, Ministre des Affaires Etrangères, de l’Intégration Africaine et des Tchadiens de l’Etranger; Amb. Chérif Mahamat Zene, Ministre de la Communication Porte Parole du Gouvernement ; Sadick Bassi Lougouma, Directeur Général de l’Autorité de Régulation des Communications Électroniques et des Postes (ARCEP); Acyl Mahamat Acyl, Directeur Général de l’Agence de Développement des technologies de l’Information et de Communication (ADETIC); Abdelnassir Mahamat Nassour ,Directeur Général de l’Agence Nationale de Sécurité Informatique et de Certification Electronique (ANSICE); Safia Mahamat Youssouf, Directrice Générale Adjointe de Suda Chad Télécommunication; Elyse Goldom, Directrice Générale de la Société des Télécommunications du Tchad (SOTEL TCHAD);Djibril Tobe, Directeur Général d’Airtel Tchad; Mohammed DKHISSI, Directeur Général de Moov Africa Tchad; Elsadig Adam Abdallah, Président du Groupement des Fournisseurs d’accès internet et Service à Valeur Ajoutée au Tchad (GFAISVA);
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 Chad 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, the Field Marshal of Chad Idriss Déby Itno, 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 Chad and thereafter.
With tensions already rising throughout the electoral process, Chad is high on the #KeepItOn coalition’s radar, and the world is watching to ensure the rights of people are upheld this election.
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, facilitating transparency, inclusiveness and openness in the process.
Chad’s history of shutdowns
The Republic of Chad has a long history of shutting down the internet and social media platforms during important national events, including throughout the last presidential election in 2016, and more recently, disrupting mobile internet connections this March. In recent years, there have been numerous reports of internet and social media shutdowns — including WhatsApp — lasting for up to 16 months, with devastating impacts on the people of Chad. The #KeepItOn coalition appeals to you, President, Idriss Déby Itno, to ensure that access to the internet and all digital communication platforms remain open and secure before, during, and after the 2021 elections.
The upcoming elections are an important moment for the people of Chad to decide their next leader, and it is essential for the government to adopt measures to ensure that the election process is free, inclusive, and fair. Internet shutdowns may instigate violence, and spur the spread of misinformation, as there are fewer reliable channels for fact-checking.
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 existing tensions, and create space to conceal potential violence and human rights violations perpetrated by both state and non-state actors.
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 Chad 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.” Additionally, 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
Telecom 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. It outlines, “states should take additional steps to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that are owned or controlled by the State.”
Furthermore, telecom service providers operating in Chad, including Moov Africa Chad, Airtel Chad, and Sotel Chad have a responsibility to uphold and respect human rights by providing quality, open, and secure access to the internet and digital communication tools throughout the elections and beyond. Internet shutdowns — whether in Chad or other countries — must never be allowed to become the new normal, and we encourage Chad 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 Chad has the potential to foster transparency and inclusivity in the upcoming elections, and ensure active citizen and other stakeholder participation.
We respectfully request that you use the important positions of your offices to:
- Refrain from arbitrarily blocking access to social media platforms such as WhatsApp, and publicly assure the people of the Republic of Chad that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, will remain open, accessible, inclusive, and secure across Chad 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 ways we can assist.
Action pour l’Education et la Promotion de la Femme (AEPF-Tchad)
Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
African Declaration on Internets Rights and Freedoms Coalition
African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation (AODIRF)
Association culturelle pour le développement social (ACDS)
Bloggers of Kenya (BAKE)
Bloggers of Zambia
Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Centre for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP-Liberia)
Computing and Information Association (CIA)-Tanzania
Digital Rights Kashmir
House of Africa
Internet Sans Frontieres (Internet Without Borders)
Internet Society Mali
Liberia Information Technology Student Union
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Namibia Media Trust (NMT)
Organization of the Justice Campaign
Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
School Net Chad (SNC)
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.