For the attention of His Excellency George Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia,
CC: Hon. Worlea-Saywah Dunah, Minister of Post & Telecommunications; Edwina Zackpah, Chairperson, Board of Commissioners, Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA); Richmond Nagbe Tobii, Chief Executive Officer, Liberia Telecommunications Corporation; Jean Marius Yao, Chief Executive Officer, Orange Liberia; and Rahul De, Chief Executive Officer, MTN Liberia Lonestar Cell.
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 Republic of Liberia, George Weah, to ensure that the internet, social media platforms, and all other communication channels remain open, secure, and accessible to all before, during, and after your country’s upcoming general elections.
As the people of Liberia prepare to vote on October 10, 2023, 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 online and off.
The internet and social media platforms play a critical role in enabling and enhancing participatory governance in a democratic society. They provide space for communicating, engaging in public debate, finding information on election processes and candidates, reporting on events, documenting outcomes, and holding governments accountable for their actions.
Liberia’s history of shutdowns
In 2019, access to social media and communication platforms including X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp was restricted across the country. These platform blocks followed anti-corruption protests against the government, with the then-Minister of Information, Eugene Nagbe, claiming they were necessary due to “security concerns.” However, critics argued authorities were restricting access in order to quell the protests and prevent them being broadcast online.
Internet shutdowns harm human rights, undermine elections, and stop information flows
The 2019 social media blackout in Liberia made it extremely difficult for journalists to report, access critical information, and share updates on the protests with the public.. Internet shutdowns also cut people off from their loved ones, which can create uncertainty during political unrest. For example, in 2019, people in Liberia reported being unable to communicate with their relatives abroad during the shutdown. Shutting down the internet during a crisis exacerbates existing tensions, spurs the spread of misinformation, and may even instigate or conceal violence and human rights violations perpetrated by both state and non-state actors.
During electoral periods, 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 make it difficult for citizens and stakeholders to participate in the electoral process. Political candidates cannot engage with their supporters, and the documentation of electoral irregularities is impeded. This not only undermines civic engagement and electoral integrity; it also threatens human rights such as the right to freedom of expression and access to information.
Internet shutdowns also interfere with people’s livelihoods, costing national economies billions of dollars. Businesses, companies, and public and private institutions lose huge sums of money during a shutdown; reports indicate that the 2019 internet shutdown cost Liberia over USD $100 million.
Internet shutdowns contravene national, regional, and international laws
The rights to freedom of expression and opinion, information and assembly are protected by Articles 15 and 17 of the Constitution of Liberia. In addition, regional and international frameworks to which Liberia 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 these rights 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 Liberia — including Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (Libtelco), MTN Liberia Lonestar Cell, and Orange Liberia — must provide high-quality, open, and secure access to the internet and digital communication tools. Internet shutdowns must never be accepted as normal, and we encourage Liberian 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 Liberia that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, will remain open, accessible, and secure across Liberia;
- Order internet service providers to guarantee high-quality, secure, and unrestricted internet access; and
- Order internet service providers to keep people informed of potential disruptions and 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
- Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
- African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
- Africa Freedom of Information Centre
- Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation
- Alliance for Vietnam’s Democracy
- Association of Liberia Community Radio Stations (ALICOR)
- Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
- Bloggers of Zambia (BloggersZM)
- Center for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding
- Center for Democratic Governance (CDG)
- Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP)
- Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
- Common Cause Zambia
- Computech Institute
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
- Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC)
- Gambia Press Union (GPU)
- Human Rights Journalists Network Nigeria
- International Press Centre (IPC)
- International Press Institute
- Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IRRED)
- Integrity Watch Liberia
- JCA-NET(Japan Computer Access Network)
- Liberia Initiative for Empowerment
- Local Voices Liberia (LVL)
- Media Foundation for West Africa
- Miaan Group
- Namibia Media Trust
- NAYMOTE Partners for Democratic Development
- Office of Civil Freedoms
- Organization of the Justice Campaign
- OpenNet Africa
- Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
- Press Union of Liberia (PUL)
- Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
- Sassoufit collective
- The Tor Project
- Webfala Digital Skills for all Initiative