November 5, 2020
CEO Mayra Arevich Marín, ETECSA
Re: Joint letter to ETECSA calling on the telecom service provider in Cuba to be transparent about possibly blocking Telegram
CC: Dr. Jorge Luis Perdomo, Ministry of Communications
Dear Mayra Arevich Marín,
We, the undersigned organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network that unites over 220 organizations from 99 countries working to end internet shutdowns  globally — write to urgently request that you publicly address the situation of potential blocking of Telegram Messenger in Cuba by providing further information as to why the application is not accessible in the country.
There have been numerous reports that Telegram is not working in Cuba . Many users have pointed out that they have not been able to access the application since October 14, 2020. We have also been informed that circumvention tools which enable citizens access to these censored platforms have also been blocked, thereby highlighting a deliberate attempt by authorities in Cuba to curtail the exercise of fundamental rights such as freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the right to access information, via these channels.
Telegram is a heavily used instant messaging application and social media platform in Cuba. The owners of Telegram have noted the disruption of the application in Cuba, and have indicated that the problem is not within their infrastructure . As the sole gatekeeper for internet access in Cuba, ETECSA has a responsibility to address their claim, but to date you have not. ETECSA also remains silent about public claims that the application is being shut down by the government. Both the lack of transparency and service undermines people’s confidence in ETECSA, along with contributing to uncertainty on how to adjust to this situation for those who rely daily on the application to conduct business, and communicate with family and friends.
Internet shutdowns harm human rights, disrupt emergency services, and cripple economies. Censoring important communications platforms like Telegram during a deadly pandemic adds fuel to the fire. This act of censorship also violates fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and opinion, access to information, press freedom, and freedom of assembly. Without access to communications tools, journalists and the media are unable to report on important political events, such as elections.
Free and open internet and digital tools and platforms have fostered unprecedented creativity and innovation, provided access to information, and other kinds of social, economic, cultural, and political opportunities across the globe. We have only seen this underscored throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The technical means used to block access to information online often dangerously undermines the stability and resilience of the internet. Network disruptions also destabilize the internet’s power to support small business livelihoods and to drive economic development.
In addition, blocking access to digital communication tools would adversely affect the economic activities of people and businesses that depend on services offered by ETECSA. A 2016 study by the Brookings Institution, a prominent think tank, revealed that shutdowns drained USD 2.4 billion from the global economy between 2015 and 2016. 
Internet shutdowns contravene national and and international law
Internet shutdowns and censoring of digital platforms violate provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba of 2019, which states that human dignity is a foundational value that must be intrinsic to interpreting rights such as freedom of expression and access to public information. 
The United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council — to which Cuba was recently reelected — has, since 2016, condemned intentional disruptions to internet access, citing violations of international law in several resolutions.  In 2018, the Human Rights Council reaffirmed that “the same rights people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression.” 
Telecom companies must respect human rights
Businesses, including state-owned, have a responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba to respect human rights, prevent or mitigate potential harms, and provide remedy for harms they cause or contribute to. 
ETECSA should urgently adopt the recommendations outlined below. Internet shutdowns — whether in Cuba or other countries — must never set a precedent, or be allowed to become the new normal, and we encourage you to integrate these practices for responding to censorship and network disruption requests where you operate.
- Be transparent and explicit about the reasons behind the apparent blocking of Telegram Messenger services in Cuba;
- Ensure that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, remains open, accessible and secure across Cuba; and
- Publicly disclose details such as when and why internet services have been disrupted, and when they will come back online, while working to fix any identified disruptions likely to impact the quality of service as soon as possible.
The undersigned civil society organizations worldwide appreciate your swift attention to these recommendations, and pledge our support in assisting your efforts to deter future internet shutdowns.
Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP-Liberia)
Cooperativa Sulá Batsú
Liberia Information Technology Student Union (LITSU)
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Organization of the Justice Campaign
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFENet)
VE Sin Filtro
Villes et Communes Magazine
- An internet shutdown is defined as an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information. See more at: https://www.accessnow.org/keepiton.
- See https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2020/10/16/denunciaron-la-censura-de-la-red-social-telegram-en-cuba/ and https://www.directoriocubano.info/cuba/telegram-deja-de-funcionar-en-cuba-y-etecsa-informa-sobre-irregularidades-en-la-navegacion-por-datos/
- See https://twitter.com/telegram_es/status/1316610054624342017
- Darrell West, (Brookings Institution, October 2016) “Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion last year” https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/intenet-shutdowns-v-3.pdf
- See Article 40 regarding human dignity, Article 54 on freedom of expression and Article 53 on access to public information.
- See UN Human Rights Council, (June 2016) “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”, http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/32/L.20.
- See UN Human Rights Council, (July 2018) “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet”, https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/1639840
- See Article 99 regarding the right of the persons to claim in court the restitution of rights, reparation and restitution where it applies.
- See “OECD Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/GuidingPrinciplesBusinessHR_EN.pdf