internet shutdown #KeepItOn

A1 Telekom to be held accountable for violations in Belarus

Access Now supports Open Society Justice Initiative’s complaint calling for accountability filed with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) against A1 Telekom Austria for its role in 2020 internet shutdowns during, and in the aftermath of, disputed elections in Belarus.

“A1 Telecom Austria must be held up to the light, and its role in cutting people’s access to information and denying them their  freedom of expression and association must be exposed for the world to see,” said Anastasiya Zhyrmont, Regional Outreach Coordinator (Eastern Europe & Central Asia) at Access Now.

In the March 16, 2022, complaint, Open Society Justice Initiative argues A1 Telekom Austria violated an entire set of OECD Guidelines, including, but not limited to: a lack of respect for internationally recognized human rights; inadequate due diligence; failure to avoid contribution to adverse impacts and to prevent or mitigate them; improper involvement in local political activities; and failure to promote internet freedom through respect of freedom of expression, assembly, and association online. 

“We hope this case helps ensure that corporations that enable authoritarian governments’ use of their technology to stifle fundamental rights are held fully accountable for their actions,” said Mariana Mas, Senior Policy Officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative

The role of telecommunications providers in internet shutdowns must be made public, and Access Now is continuing to push for accountability for companies implicated in facilitating shutdowns in Belarus. In October 2020, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition pressed A1 to strongly denounce the shutdowns and comply with its responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines. While A1 has been communicating with civil society, they have not publicly accepted full responsibility under human rights standards.

In 2020, Access Now also led a successful campaign demanding US-Canadian firm Sandvine to stop providing censorship technology to the Belarusain government that helped to implement the shutdowns. The company has since then withdrawn from Belarus. 

Access Now welcomes Open Society Justice Initiative OECD complaint against A1 and is confident that it will help further cement the responsibilities of companies to respect and prioritize the human rights of people who use their services, and fight against facilitating internet shutdowns and other digital rights violations in the future.