Russia #KeepItOn elections

#KeepItOn: government of Senegal must ensure open and secure internet access throughout the 2024 presidential elections

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For the attention of His Excellency, Macky SALL, President of the Republic of Senegal

CC: Mr. Moussa Bocar Thiam, Minister of Communication, Telecommunications and Digital Economy;  Mr. Sidiki Kaba, Minister of Interior; Mr. Abdou Karim Sall, General Manager of ARTP; Mr. Babacar Diagne, President of CNRA; Mr. Sékou Drame, General Manager of Sonatel; Ms. Fatou Sow Kane, General Manager of Expresso Senegal; and Mr. Mamadou Mbengue, General Manager of Free Senegal.

Countries across Africa, and the world, must ensure people can access open, secure, and free internet during moments of national importance. This election, we urge the government of Senegal 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 — appeal to you, President Macky Sall, to publicly commit to ensuring that people in the Republic of Senegal have unfettered access to the internet, social media platforms, and all other communication channels throughout the upcoming presidential election of March 24

 As the people of Senegal prepare to vote, your government must adopt, implement, and enforce measures that safeguard human rights, by enabling unrestricted access to information and avenues for freedom of expression, assembly, and association — both offline and online. This will also contribute to an inclusive, free, and fair election process.

In a democratic society, the internet and social media platforms play a critical role in enhancing participatory governance, advancing inclusiveness and transparency, and enabling people to exercise their fundamental human rights — all principles enshrined in Senegal’s Constitution. Online platforms enable public discourse about election processes and political candidates, and allow voters to hold governments accountable. Internet access also facilitates the essential work of journalists, human rights defenders, and election observers who monitor, document, and report on election processes. 

Senegal’s history of shutdowns

Senegal’s ongoing election period has gotten off to a shaky start, and in the past month, the government’s actions have jeopardized citizen’s rights to freedom of assembly, expression, and access to information during the election. 


On March 6, President Macky Sall announced that the general election would be held on March 24. This followed a ruling by Senegal’s Constitutional Court overturning President Macky Sall’s postponement of elections, initially scheduled for February 25, until December this year.

The government’s initial decision to delay the election by over eight months triggered demonstrations in the capital of Dakar, which were met with harsh crackdowns by security forces. Authorities also blocked access to mobile internet services on February 5; a move justified by the Ministry of Communications, Telecommunications, and Digital Economy as necessary to curb “hateful and subversive messages” spreading on social media. Mobile internet access was restored on February 7, only for authorities to shut down the internet once again on February 13. Internet access was restored later the same day.

These recent actions add to Senegalese authorities’ previous track record of censorship. In June 2023, violent protests erupted and spread across Senegal, following the sentencing of opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, to two years in prison. The Ministry of Communication, Telecommunication and Digital Economy ordered the country’s internet service providers (ISPs) to block social media platforms and disrupt internet traffic. When new demonstrations erupted in July 2023 after Mr. Sonko was re-arrested, authorities cut off mobile internet connections and blocked TikTok. Both times, the government attempted to justify the shutdowns as necessary for preventing spread of hateful and subversive messages online. However, the #KeepItOn coalition’s work shows that internet shutdowns have the opposite effect, escalating tensions, violating people’s rights, and amplifying the spread of misinformation.

Internet shutdowns harm human rights, worsen crises, and hinder information flows

Internet shutdowns and violence go hand-in-hand. Shutting down the internet during conflict, protests, or public health emergencies restricts the availability of vital, timely, and potentially life-saving information, as well as access to emergency services. This can exacerbate existing tensions, instigate or conceal violence and human rights violations, or spread misinformation.

Shutdowns also make it extremely difficult for journalists to report from the ground, leaving people inside and outside of Senegal without access to trustworthy, credible sources of information. Shutdowns may also hinder the vital election monitoring work undertaken by Senegal’s Autonomous National Electoral Commission (CENA), national and international election observer groups, political parties, media outlets, and civil society.

Finally, internet shutdowns also impact people’s livelihoods and entire economies, costing countries, businesses, and public organizations that rely on the digital economy billions of dollars

Internet shutdowns contravene international laws 

Senegal is a signatory to regional and international frameworks, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which protect and promote the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, assembly, and access to information — both offline and online. In addition, Senegal is a state party to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which calls for safeguarding democracy, the rule of law, and human rights during elections.The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa 2019 also calls on States not to “engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet and other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population.” 

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,” expressing concern over 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 Secretary General and other experts have 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.” 

Telcos must respect human rights

Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, telecommunications companies are responsible for preventing or mitigating any potential human rights harms they may cause or contribute to, and for providing remedies for any harms  when and if they occur.  Telecommunications companies and ISPs operating in Senegal — including  Orange, Free, and Expresso — must provide quality, open, and secure access to the internet and digital communication tools.  

Internet shutdowns should never become a norm, whether in Senegal or elsewhere. We encourage businesses in Senegal to integrate the UN Principles and OECD Guidelines when responding to censorship and network disruption requests, in any market where they operate.

Recommendations

We call on you, President Sall, to:

  • Publicly assure the people of Senegal that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, will remain open, accessible, inclusive, and secure before, during and after the election;
  • Refrain from ordering the disruption of telecommunications services, social media platforms, or other digital communication platforms throughout the elections;
  • Ensure that telecommunications and internet service providers (ISPs) implement all necessary measures to provide high-quality, secure, unrestricted, and uninterrupted internet access throughout the election period and thereafter, in line with their quality of service and license conditions; and,
  • Ensure that telecommunication and ISPs inform the people of Senegal of any potential disruptions, and take all reasonable steps to remedy any identified disruptions likely to impact their quality of service.

Please let us know how the #KeepItOn coalition can support you in upholding a free, open, secure, inclusive, and accessible internet for all in Senegal. 

Yours sincerely,

Signatories:

  • Access Now
  • African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
  • Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
  • Africa Media and Information Technology Initiative (AfriMITI)
  • Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation (AODIRF)
  • AfricTivistes
  • ARTICLE 19 Senegal and West Africa
  • Avocats Sans Frontières France (ASF France)
  • Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
  • Bloggers of Zambia- BloggersZM
  • Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI)
  • Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD Ethiopia)
  • Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
  • Common Cause Zambia
  • Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  • Computech Institute
  • Digital Grassroots (DIGRA)
  • Digital Rights Kashmir
  • Digital Rights Lab
  • Freedom of Expression Hub
  • Forumvert
  • Gambia Press Union (GPU)
  • Global Digital Inclusion Partnership (GDIP)
  • Human Rights Journalists Network Nigeria
  • International Press Centre (IPC)
  • International Press Institute
  • Jonction, Senegal
  • Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet)
  • Life campaign to abolish the death sentence in Kurdistan
  • Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
  • Miaan Group
  • Office of Civil Freedoms
  • OONI (Open Observatory of Network Interference)
  • ONG Women Be Free
  • OpenNet Africa
  • Organization of the Justice Campaign
  • Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
  • PEN America
  • Single Mothers Association of Kenya (SMAK)
  • Small Media Foundation
  • SMEX
  • Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet)
  • Reporters sans frontières (RSF)
  • Robert F Kennedy Human Rights
  • Rudi International 
  • Ubunteam
  • Voices for Interactive Choice and Empowerment (VOICE)
  • YODET 
  • Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC-Nigeria)
  • Zaina Foundation