As polls close, Kenya upholds freedom of expression by keeping internet on

Global—Access Now applauds the government of Kenya’s decision to choose freedom of expression over shutting down the internet. Over the course of a closely fought election, early reports show that mobile and fixed line services remained online, enabling election workers to attend to the polls, journalists to report the news, emergency workers to operate efficiently, and for businesses to support citizens. There were independent reports of throttling on social media services that are not yet confirmed.

“Kenya decided not to endorse the poor behavior of other governments that have disrupted the internet during elections,” said Deji Bryce Olukotun, Senior Global Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “Despite online rumor mongering and a cynical hashtag on Twitter implying that an internet shutdown was inevitable, authorities upheld their commitment to human rights and allowed the digital economy to thrive. The President should now go further and unequivocally commit to keeping the internet on as votes are tallied. We’re still examining our technical data but for now Kenya has proven the value of the free flow of information.”

“Elections are key events in the life of democratic nations, and Kenya has shown how they can be safely held while respecting freedom of expression, online and offline,” said Access Now General Counsel, Peter Micek. “Kenya’s authorities deserve praise for backing their commitments to support civil society with rights-respecting action. We expect more governments to follow their lead and keep the internet on before, during, and after contentious votes.”

The civil society groups KICTANet, the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE), and CIPIT at Strathmore University played a leading role in educating policy makers and the general public about maintaining the internet. Former U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement calling for calm. Key moments to watch in the election process include the transmission of electronic voting from regional centers to the central polling database, the official announcement of results, and a shadow report by the European Union. Last week, the Communications Authority, a key regulator, confirmed it would not shut down the internet.

Kenya is a member of the Freedom Online Coalition, a group of governments committed to online free expression.

About the #KeepitOn campaign

The #KeepitOn campaign, convened by Access Now, consists of 131 organizations from 56 countries that are devoted to fighting internet shutdowns. Since the campaign launched at RightsCon Silicon Valley in 2016, we’ve seen major victories: the UN Human Rights Council condemned internet shutdowns; 30 governments of the Freedom Online Coalition spoke out against shutdowns, as well as the GSMA, the Global Network Initiative, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. And, together with local activists, we helped end major internet shutdowns in Cameroon and Gambia.