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In Africa and the Middle East, internet shutdowns shroud human rights abuses

Access Now and Global Partners Digital are proud to launch a new report, Evading accountability through internet shutdowns: Trends in Africa and the Middle East, examining how authorities in these regions are weaponizing shutdowns to obscure grave human rights abuses. The report draws on examples from Africa and the Middle East to show how some countries with poor track records are repeatedly imposing shutdowns, how they are often preceded by political upheaval and conflict, and how vague laws enable arbitrary orders to cut off online communication. 

Internet shutdowns provide a cover for authorities to commit egregious acts with impunity. They prevent journalists and activists from documenting and reporting on human rights violations in real-time, taking governments one step closer to authoritarianism and away from accountability. Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now

The report, which builds on Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition’s latest data on global internet shutdowns, spotlights the catalysts for shutdowns in Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Iran, and Sudan. The report’s recommendations urge governments, businesses, civil society, and other actors to resist the resurgence of shutdowns, calling for them to: 

  • Push authorities to publicly commit to protecting and preserving internet access at all times, and particularly during important events; 
  • Galvanize the international community to denounce internet shutdowns and pressure perpetrators to stop wielding them as a weapon against civilians; 
  • Support civil society to continue using strategic litigation to challenge shutdowns; and
  • Equip civil society and others who resist the rising tide of shutdowns with the tools and  resources they need to monitor and document shutdowns worldwide. 
Governments should uphold people’s basic human rights, not avoid accountability for abusing them. This research is an important step in documenting the links between state violence and internet shutdowns, and we hope that it will inform and encourage policymakers’ and activists’ advocacy efforts on the topic. Lea Kaspar, Executive Director at Global Partners Digital