Authorities in Kenya must immediately restore access and #KeepItOn throughout protests and unrest

A1 Telekom Austria Group: ensure people’s access to open and secure internet during Belarusian elections

As people in Belarus prepare for elections on February 25, 2024, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition urge A1 Telekom Austria Group to keep internet connectivity open and secure throughout the election period. This vote will be the first since the disputed presidential elections in 2020 that triggered widespread protests, and saw authorities implement unprecedented crackdowns on Belarusian civil society, shut down 1,533 NGOs, and block independent and foreign media websites and social media services.

Belarusian authorities have a long history of ordering internet service providers to shut down the internet — the companies comply. A1 Telekom Austria Group, whose subsidiary A1 Belarus operates in the country, must resist any government internet shutdown orders, and publicly share any shutdown requests the company receives.

Telecommunication providers have a responsibility to provide quality, open, and secure access to internet to people of Belarus. They need to integrate the United Nations Principles and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines when responding to censorship and network disruption requests. Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now.

In the aftermath of the three-day internet outage in 2020, civil society organization Open Society Justice Initiative filed an OECD complaint against A1 Telekom Austria for violating an entire set of OECD Guidelines by following President ​​Aleksandr Lukashenko’s request to shut down the internet.

By enforcing any government orders to cut off internet services, A1 Telekom Austria Group would risk becoming a puppet of the Belarusian government to suppress rights during moments of political crises. Access Now calls on telecommunication providers in Belarus to not repeat bad actions of the past, and stand against government censorship demands. Anastasiya Zhyrmont, Policy Manager Eastern Europe & Central Asia at Access Now.

Through an open letter, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition are issuing a series of recommendations to A1 Telekom Austria Group:

  • Preserve evidence, and openly communicate about demands from the government of Belarus requesting that it disrupt internet access or pressure to conceal their demands;
  • Publicly disclose details when the internet and related services are disrupted, including information about their status throughout the shutdowns and when they come back online;
  • Coordinate with civil society and peers in the telecommunications sector to jointly push back against government censorship demands, and publish regular transparency reports to safeguard open, secure internet access and deter future shutdown orders;
  • Incorporate mitigating measures against involvement in internet shutdowns within A1 Telekom Austria’s Human Rights Policy; and
  • Engage meaningfully with relevant stakeholders and affected communities to establish grievance mechanisms and access to remedies for affected people and communities.