election internet shutdowns

Congo cannot repeat history this election, authorities must keep the country connected

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Update: March 22 — To the dismay of the #KeepItOn coalition and the international community, authorities in the Republic of the Congo shut down the internet on the eve of the presidential election.

According to Kentik data, traffic stopped flowing into Congo just after midnight local time on March 21, merely hours before polls were set to open for millions to cast their vote. To date (March 22), the Internet remains inaccessible.  

“The #KeepItOn coalition predicted this internet shutdown in the Congo,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “But it’s no less disappointing. When governments interfere with internet access throughout critical events like elections, they’re sending a message that they don’t want people fully participating in democracy.”

March 16: Authorities in the Republic of the Congo must keep the internet open, accessible, and secure throughout the entire 2021 presidential election period, scheduled for March 17 (military voters) and March 21 (civilian voters). Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition demand authorities do not repeat the unethical actions that blocked access to information and communication channels as millions hit the polls in 2016.

“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 the Congo to #KeepItOn,” the coalition states via an open letter.

“They’ve done it before, but we’re calling on the government of the Republic of the Congo to not do it again — this presidential election, keep the internet accessible,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “We are seeing internet shutdowns wielded across Africa as the go-to tool to keep populations in check. The #KeepItOn coalition will continue to actively engage with governments and key actors during elections to reiterate the harm internet shutdowns cause to democracies, and urge those in power to keep internet access open at all times.”

Authorities should take advantage of the vital role the internet and digital communications tools play in facilitating citizens’ participation in electoral processes by safeguarding access to these platforms.

Access Now, AfricTivistes, Freedom House, and 48 other organizations call on authorities in the Republic of the Congo to implement the following recommendations to ensure transparent and participatory elections: 

  • Publicly assure the people of the Republic of the Congo that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, will remain open, accessible, and secure throughout the election and thereafter;
  • Order internet service providers to provide everyone with high-quality, secure, and unrestricted internet access; and
  • Order internet service providers to inform internet users of any potential disruptions and to take all reasonable steps to fix any identified disruptions.

There are two election dates in 2021, as announced by the Republic of Congo’s electoral commission,  with defense and security forces going to the polls on March 17, allowing them to “devote themselves in securing the voting process” on March 21 when the rest of the population will cast their votes. 

In 2016, authorities shut down the internet during the presidential election to, purportedly, stop the “illegal” publication of results. 

The Republic of the Congo is one of many countries hosting elections that Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition is monitoring in 2021.

Read the open letter.