[Read in French]
For the attention of His Excellency Ali Bongo Ondimba, President of the Gabonese Republic,
CC: Jean Pierre Doukaga Kassa, Ministre de l’économie numérique; Lin Mombo, Président of the Regulatory Board, Autorité de Régulation des Communications Electroniques et des Postes (ARCEP); Abderrahim Koumaa, Director-General, Gabon Telecom; and Alain Kahasha, Managing Director, Airtel Gabon.
Governments across Africa, and the world, must ensure people can access open and free internet when they need it the most — during important national events. This election, we urge the Gabonese Republic to #KeepItOn.
We, the undersigned organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network of over 300 organizations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns — urge you, President of the Gabonese Republic, Ali Bongo Ondimba, to ensure that, before, during, and after upcoming the country’s general elections, the internet, social media platforms, and all other communication channels are open, secure, and accessible to all.
As the people of Gabon prepare to vote on August 26, it is essential that your government adopt and prioritize measures to ensure that the election process is inclusive, free, and fair, by providing voters with unfettered access to information and avenues for free expression, both offline and online.
The internet and social media platforms play a critical role in enabling and enhancing participatory governance in democratic society. They provide space for communicating, engaging in public debate, seeking information on election processes and candidates, reporting and documenting events and outcomes, and holding governments accountable for their actions.
Gabon’s history of shutdowns
In recent years, activists have documented multiple incidents of shutdowns in Gabon. In 2021, Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition received reports of an internet throttling during protests related to government COVID measures. In 2019, authorities in Gabon cut off access to the internet and broadcasting services following an attempted coup d’etat. And in 2016, the government flipped the kill switch in response to protests, clashes, looting, and arrests in the capital of Libreville, after the re-election of President Ali Bongo.
Internet shutdowns harm human rights, exacerbate crises, and stop the free flow of information
Research shows that internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand. Shutting down the internet during crises adds fuel to the fire, and cuts off access to vital, timely, and life-saving information, and to emergency services. Shutdowns violate fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and opinion, access to information, freedom of the press, and freedom of peaceful assembly. By disrupting the flow of information, shutdowns exacerbate existing tensions, potentially instigate or conceal violence and human rights violations perpetrated by both state and non-state actors, and spur the spread of misinformation.
Shutdowns make it extremely difficult for journalists to carry out their work, thereby denying people both inside and outside of the country access to credible information. Human rights defenders, election observers, civil society actors, and other stakeholders rely on the internet to monitor and report on elections, facilitating transparency and openness in the democratic process.
Internet shutdowns also interfere with people’s livelihoods and cost national economies billions of dollars, with businesses, companies, and public and private institutions losing huge sums of money as a result.
Internet shutdowns contravene national, regional, and international laws
The Gabonese Republic’s constitution, as well as regional and international frameworks to which Gabon is a signatory, such as the legally-binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, all provide for the protection and promotion of the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, assembly, and access to information — both offline and online.
The 2016 African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Resolution recognizes the “importance of the internet in advancing human and people’s rights in Africa,” and condemns the “emerging practice of State Parties interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the internet, social media, and messaging services.” Moreover, the UN has affirmed that, “blanket Internet shutdowns and generic blocking and filtering of services are considered by United Nations human rights mechanisms to be in violation of international human rights law.”
Telecom companies must respect human rights
Telecommunications companies and businesses have a responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to respect human rights, prevent or mitigate potential harms, and provide remedy for harms they cause or contribute to.
Telcos operating in Gabon — including Moov Gabon, Gabon Telecom, and Airtel Gabon — must provide high-quality, open, and secure access to the internet and digital communication tools. Internet shutdowns — whether in Gabon or other countries — must never be allowed to become the new normal, and we encourage Gabonese enterprises to integrate the UN Guiding Principles and OECD Guidelines for responding to censorship and network disruption requests in all markets where they operate.
Ahead of, during, and beyond the upcoming elections, we urge you to:
- Publicly assure the people of Gabon that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, will remain open, accessible, and secure across Gabon;
- Order internet service providers to guarantee high-quality, secure, and unrestricted internet access; and
- Order internet service providers to keep people informed of any potential disruptions, and to take all reasonable steps to fix any identified disruptions likely to impact their quality of service.
Please let us know how the #KeepItOn coalition can support you in upholding open, fair, and accessible internet access for all.
- Access Now
- Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
- Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation (AODIRF)
- African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
- Alliance for Vietnam’s Democracy
- ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa
- Article 19 West Africa
- Association des Professionnels de l’Information et de la Communication (APIC Gabon)
- Bareedo Platform Somalia
- Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
- Bloggers of Zambia
- Body & Data, Nepal
- Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding CEMESP-Liberia
- Center for the Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD)
- Centre for Community Empowerment and Development
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
- Common Cause Zambia
- Computech Institute
- DWU – Digital Woman Uganda
- Dyne.org Foundation (NL)
- free2air.org (UK)
- Global Digital Inclusion Partnership (GDIP)
- HAKI NA SHERIA INITIATIVE (HSI)
- Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda
- International Press Centre (IPC)
- Internet Protection Society (Russia)
- Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)
- Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet)
- Life campaign to abolish the death sentence in Kurdistan
- Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
- Media in Cooperation & Transition (MiCT) gGmbH (DE)
- Miaan Group
- Office of civil freedoms
- Organization of the Justice Campaign
- Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
- Wikimedia Uganda
- Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNet)
- Zaina Foundation