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#NoExamShutdown: Open letter to authorities in Iraq to #KeepItOn during exams

Read in Arabic / للقراءة بالعربية

As part of the #NoExamShutdown campaign, we’re sending an open letter to authorities in Iraq to abstain from resorting to internet shutdowns during exams, and committing to #KeepItOn.

To: Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani, Prime Minister of Republic of Iraq

The Office of the Prime Minister

Cc: Ibrahim Al-Jubouri, Minister of Education

Hayam Al-Yasiri, Minister of Communication

Re: Internet shutdowns during Iraq’s national school exams 

Your Excellency the Prime Minister, Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani,

Access Now, SMEX, the Internet Society, and the undersigned civil society organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network of over 300 organizations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns — appeal to you and all relevant authorities in Iraq to commit to protecting internet access during the upcoming national exams scheduled between May and June.

Iraq is one of the few countries in the world that has repeatedly resorted to internet shutdowns to prevent alleged exam cheating and prevent the leaking of exam content. This practice violates international law. As the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and several UN resolutions have highlighted, Internet shutdowns have“unacceptable consequences for human rights and should never be imposed.” We have previously urged the Government of Iraq to end this disproportionate practice, and we are repeating our call ahead of this year’s exams.

Last year, we welcomed the Ministry of Communication’s initial decision to finally end exam-related internet shutdowns for the first time since 2015. However, it was then disheartening to witness the reversal of this decision, and to see internet shutdowns imposed on multiple occasions in June, July, August, and September 2023.

Before this year’s important exams, we would like to remind you that there is little to no evidence demonstrating that internet shutdowns are effective in preventing exam cheating. Most countries around the world successfully conduct national exams without resorting to such a blunt-force measure. And in recent years, we have seen several instances of exam questions being leaked during Iraq’s national exams, even with internet shutdowns in effect — proof that the tactic is ineffective for upholding the national exam process’ integrity. It is time for other, more proportionate solutions.

On the other hand, there is significant evidence of the detrimental effects internet shutdowns have had on individuals and businesses in Iraq. As well as depriving millions of their fundamental rights, internet shutdowns limit business activity and hamper economic growth. For instance, between July 2015 and June 2016, Iraq experienced a loss of over USD 200 million in economic growth due to internet disruptions. Even brief internet shutdowns imposed during exams can have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for Iraq’s entire economy, disproportionately harming people across the country. Each day if Internet shutdowns cost the Iraqi economy a loss of USD 1.4 million and a loss of around USD 120,000 in Foreign Direct Investment, it also hinders the trust of international business in Iraqi telecommunication infrastructure. 

These adverse effects have become more noticeable amid Iraq’s recent shift towards digital transformation for economic growth. Your party’s efforts to advance Iraq’s digital transformation represent a significant move toward modernizing government services by shifting them online. However, internet shutdowns pose a serious threat to these initiatives. On social media, people share their personal stories about how these measures have impacted them personally, revealing how shutdowns affect businesses, startups, transportation services, banks, delivery services, and individuals who depend on unhampered access to social media and the internet for their daily work. For Iraq to fully enhance governmental efficiency and economic stability through digitization, authorities must take responsibility and refrain from shutting down the internet, as it undermines the very digitization efforts the government is striving to promote. 

Disrupting internet access to restrict people’s communication, self-expression, and access to vital information during emergencies and crises also violates the fundamental right to freedom of expression, as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Internet shutdowns are widely condemned by the international community, as indicated by United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 47/16, which condemns “the use of Internet shutdowns to intentionally and arbitrarily prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information.”

In a recent report on internet shutdowns, the Human Rights Council sheds light on trends, causes, legal ramifications, and the impacts on different human rights, urging authorities not to impose shutdowns. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has stressed that “switching off the internet causes incalculable damage, both in material and human rights terms,” while “the costs to jobs, education, health, and political participation virtually always exceed any hoped-for benefit.”

Article 4 of the ICCPR allows states to “take measures derogating from their obligations under the Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.” According to the UN Human Rights Committee, this requirement should reflect “the principle of proportionality, which is common to derogation and limitation powers.” In other words, “any derogation measure shall be such only as is strictly necessary to deal with the threat to the life of the nation and is proportionate to its nature and extent.” Internet shutdowns disproportionately affect all users and unjustifiably limit access to information and emergency communication services during critical times, making them “disproportionate by default.”

Given Iraq’s history of using internet shutdowns during other critical moments, including protests, we urgently call on you to make a firm commitment to #KeepItOn at all times, and to end the ineffective practice during exams in particular. We call on you to ensure the people of Iraq have safe, open, and unfettered access to the internet during the upcoming exam period.

We are available to you and your office to discuss this matter further, answer questions, or provide support in navigating the transition away from internet shutdowns toward more rights-respecting alternatives. Kindly note that we will publish this letter and any responses we receive from your government.

Again, we urge you to strongly honor Iraq’s obligations to uphold human rights, abstain from implementing internet shutdowns during exams, and commit to #NoExamShutdown.

Signatures

Access Now

SMEX

The Internet Society (ISOC)

INSM Network for Digital Rights in Iraq

Digital Rights Kashmir

Ubunteam

Sassoufit collective 

YODET

Myanmar Internet Project

Freedom Forum, Nepal 

Kijiji Yeetu -Kenya

Human Rights Journalists Network Nigeria

Gambia Press Union (GPU)

Organization of the Justice Campaign

Life campaign to abolish the death sentence in Kurdistan