Somaliland: Civil society urges authorities not to shutter social media during elections

London – Organizations in Africa and worldwide call on the authorities of the self-declared autonomous state of Somaliland to refrain from shuttering social media during the presidential elections.

The call comes after the national electoral commission announced at a press conference that it will be imposing a shutdown of social media from November 13 until the election results come out.

“Shutdowns disrupt the free flow of information and create a cover of darkness that shields human rights abuses from public scrutiny,” the letter says. “Journalists and media workers cannot contact sources, gather information, or file stories without digital communications tools. Justified for various reasons, shutdowns cut off access to vital information, e-commerce, and emergency services, plunging whole communities into fear.”

The commission said the move is to avoid the spread of fake news and rumors. While the proposed shutdown is a first in Somaliland, “Public Safety” and “Stopping Rumors and Dissemination of Illegal Content” were the most common official justifications for internet shutdowns around the world in 2017.

Yet a growing body of findings and resolutions holds that intentional disruptions to the internet violate international law.

In November 2016, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights adopted a resolution on the right to freedom of information and expression on the internet in Africa, which noted its concern over “the emerging practice of State Parties of interrupting or limiting access to telecommunications services such as the Internet, social media and messaging services, increasingly during elections.”

The letter –- signed by Hargeisa-based Human Rights Centre, among others –- was initiated by #KeepitOn, a coalition of over 140 organizations fighting intentional internet shutdowns across the globe.