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As a contentious election nears, rights groups urge Zambia to #KeepItOn

Update: August 20, 2021 — In spite of the #KeepItOn coalition’s call for open and accessible internet, authorities in Zambia blocked access to social media platforms throughout the nation’s August 12 election, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. 

Access has since been restored, with the High Court of Zambia ordering the government to end the internet shutdown following a lawsuit put forward by Chapter One Foundation (Ltd) challenging the decision. 

Prior to the elections, rumors emerged that the government was planning to shut down the internet during this critical period. The government vehemently dismissed these allegations in a statement signed by Amos Malupenga, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information And Broadcasting Services.

August 5, 2021: As Zambia prepares to go to the polls on August 12, 2021, Access now and the #KeepItOn coalition call on the country’s authorities to ensure that access to the internet and digital communication remains uninterrupted throughout the elections and beyond. 

“We’re asking the government to make a public commitment to uphold freedom of expression, association, and assembly during this election and at all times,” said Susan Mwape, Executive Director of Common Cause Zambia. “The ever-shrinking civic space is preventing Zambians from enjoying their fundamental rights and freedoms, as guaranteed in article 20 and 26 of the Constitution of Zambia. To ensure election integrity and protect our rights, the government must uphold its democratic responsibility and  #KeepItOn.”

In the lead up to the elections, authorities have already introduced a number of legislations including the Cybersecurity and Cyber Crimes Act, 2021 that could enhance the government’s control of the country’s online civic space. 

“Governments are increasingly attempting to stamp out dissent by imposing internet shutdowns and other forms of online censorship during elections,” Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now.  “Internet shutdowns are undemocratic and a blatant abuse of power. We cannot allow this to keep happening. The government of Zambia must set an example among its peers and #KeepItOn  on August 12 and beyond.” 

The open letter, which was signed by 41 human rights organizations, urges the government to:  

  • Ensure full internet access nationwide and refrain from arbitrarily blocking access to social media platforms such as Twitter, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Facebook, and websites of media outlets throughout the election period and thereafter;
  • Publicly assure the people of Zambia that the internet and all other digital communication platforms, will remain open, accessible, inclusive, and secure across Zambia throughout the election and thereafter;
  • Order all internet service providers in Zambia to provide everyone with high-quality, secure, inclusive, and unrestricted internet access throughout the election period and thereafter; and
  • Order all internet service providers 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.