Telecoms and Internet Connectivity

Before critical year for democracy, 38 States condemn internet shutdowns amid elections

Kyoto, Japan — Today, thirty-eight governments, who compose the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC), condemn internet shutdowns and network disruptions amid elections. The joint statement — issued during the annual United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF) — calls on governments to stop shutting down the internet and digital communications platforms before, during, and after electoral periods in accordance with States’ international human rights obligations.  

Access Now applauds the Members of the Freedom Online Coalition for uniting to condemn the egregious use of internet shutdowns to disrupt electoral processes. The demand for action comes as the globe gears up for a planned 50 countries heading to the polls in 2024 — now it’s up to governments to put human rights and democracy first. Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now

The joint statement underscores that “protecting, respecting, and promoting human rights is essential to foster free and fair elections.” It states that by “obstructing the free flow of information, opinions, and expression […] internet shutdowns threaten the legitimacy of the electoral process” and ultimately undermine public trust. 

With over two billion people worldwide scheduled to vote in 2024, it is essential for governments, civil society, and the private sector to coordinate to #KeepItOn globally. Since 2016, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition have documented at least 57 election-related internet shutdowns worldwide. Countries including Uganda, Gabon, Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraq, and Belarus, have demonstrated a pattern of weaponizing internet shutdowns as a tool of control, while shielding human rights abuses perpetrated with impunity. Citing the extensive data and research from a range of actors — including the #KeepItOn coalition — the joint statement highlights the devastating impact of internet shutdowns on human rights during electoral periods, incitement to hostility and violence, and the economy.

The joint statement marks the third FOC initiative condemning internet shutdowns. It follows the initial 2017 Joint Statement on State Sponsored Network Disruptions, and Accompanying Good Practices for Governments, and the 2022 Joint Statement on Internet Shutdowns in Iran, — the first ever FOC country-specific statement. 

The global pressure to put an end to internet shutdowns is mounting. The FOC’s continuous coordination to condemn these attacks on people’s rights signals a major shift from awareness-building towards concrete action. The world is waking up to the pressing need for coordinated cross-regional action to put an end to government interference with internet and communication platforms, while exposing how the targeted timing and intent of internet shutdowns amid elections causes immeasurable damage to communities worldwide. Laura O’Brien, Senior UN Advocacy Officer at Access Now

The joint statement has already received strong support during the annual IGF, with civil society and academics endorsing it during today’s dedicated shutdowns and elections IGF session, and should be used for future advocacy at the domestic, regional, and international level.