As Tanzania votes, government forces telecom companies to escalate censorship

Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition denounce the government of Tanzania’s repressive measures to stifle fundamental rights and freedoms, and call on telecommunication service providers to keep people online in the build up to tomorrow’s presidential elections. 

Reports of government censorship in Tanzania are escalating. Media reports and evidence gathered by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) suggests that Twitter, WhatsApp, and, potentially, Telegram have been blocked today, October 27, 2020. The government previously ordered network service providers in the country to halt bulk SMS and bulk voice services from October 24 until November 11, 2020, and reportedly censored individual messages that included election keywords, leaving millions without effective communication tools. Access Now and the #KeepItOn Coalition are concerned a total internet shutdown is next.

“Tanzanians have a right to access information and communicate during the election period, and telcos have a responsibility to keep them online,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “The government must rescind all requests to block messaging and social media apps, and grant people their right to fully participate in the democratic process. Disrupting key digital communications platforms ahead of the elections underscores the government’s deliberate attempt to stifle the rights of the Tanzanian people, and its total disregard for democratic processes.”

Telecom service providers operating in Tanzania have a responsibility to respect the human rights of Tanzanians, and must take all possible measures to prevent and mitigate government attempts to censor millions. Access to the internet and digital communication tools enable people to gain information and stay informed on election processes, engage in public discourse, and hold elected leaders to account. Disconnecting a nation in times of high tension can be incredibly dangerous, adding frustration and confusion to political discord. It is therefore imperative that the people of Tanzania can access an open and secure internet and digital communications platforms at all times. 

Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition invite the international community to join the call: telecommunications companies must resist Magufuli-government censorship requests, and allow people to freely and securely access communication platforms throughout the election period and thereafter.