International community presses island nation of Nauru on free expression, internet blocking

Human rights concerns raised by restrictive new criminal law and treatment of asylum seekers

Global – Today a coalition of international rights groups sent a letter to key officials at the island nation of Nauru, citing concerns about free expression and internet blocking. Signers included Access, Engage Media, Human Rights Watch, GetUp!, International Service for Human Rights, Pacific Freedom Forum, PEN International, PEN Melbourne, PEN Sydney, Refugee Council of Australia, and David Cake, Chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia.

“The government should immediately restore access to the full internet and amend section 244A of the criminal code,” said Access Senior Advocacy Manager Deji Olukotun, “both of which can be used as a pretext to silence free expression and critical debate.”

Last week, the government of Nauru officially announced that it would block Facebook and other websites until it could pass measures to protect its residents from abusive content on the internet. Nauru is a tiny island nation of just 21 square kilometers (8.1 square miles) in the South Pacific — yet decisions made there have far-reaching implications for human rights. The country operates an immigration detention center for people seeking asylum in Australia. If refugee status is granted, however, they are resettled in Papua New Guinea, Nauru, or Cambodia, not in Australia itself.

“Nauru is a bellwether for free expression in the South Pacific and its immigration detention center places the new restrictions in sharp relief,” Olukotun continued. “The internet blocking and the criminal code could be used to target asylum seekers, a vulnerable community that may depend on online communication to survive.”

Earlier this month, UN and global human rights experts issued an historic declaration that internet kill switches can never be justified under international law. In 2015, there have been documented internet shutdowns in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Togo.

“Responsibility for this shutdown lies first with the government, but any company involved must take steps to push back on the order,” said Access Senior Policy Counsel Peter Micek. “The first step is issuing a human rights policy,” he continued, “and the next is putting that policy into action. Shutting off access isn’t good for business, or your users.”


Media contacts

Deji Olukotun
Senior Global Advocacy Manager, Access
[email protected]
tel: +1 415-935-4572