The island nation of Nauru may be tiny — it’s only 21 square kilometers (8.5 square miles) — but what is happening there matters to people around the world. Today, Access and a coalition of international organizations sent a letter [PDF] calling for the government to stop blocking internet services and to repeal a dangerous new criminal law that restricts free expression.
The government has issued a permanent block on websites with pornographic content, and a temporary block on sites such as Facebook, on the pretext of protecting people in Nauru from abuse by malicious users. At the same time, the government has amended its criminal code, criminalizing many forms of expression. But as the coalition letter points out, these restrictions put the vulnerable population of asylum seekers on the island — some of them children — at risk of human rights abuses. The coalition writes:
The government of Nauru’s operation of a major immigration detention center brings an additional responsibility to uphold human rights — especially given that some of the detained asylum seekers are children. Asylum seekers are a vulnerable group that receive protections under international law. Because asylum seekers are physically detained, the internet may serve as their primary means of communication. Internet services, including Facebook and other social media, help them communicate with family in other locations, a critical issue for resettlement and for providing evidence to receive refugee status. Restrictions on access may prevent detained asylum seekers from communicating with advocates and legal representatives who are trying to help them. Asylum seekers also must have the ability to speak about the conditions of their asylum, which could be penalized under section 244A.
We hope that the government of Nauru will respond swiftly. We are encouraged that on Friday, David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, called on the government of Nauru to end its restrictions, warning that the “new laws could be used to muzzle dissenting opinions and deter human rights defenders, academics, journalists, students, politicians, and civil society members.”
Our co-signers on the letter include Electronic Frontiers Australia, Engage Media, GetUp!, Human Rights Watch, International Service For Human Rights, Pacific Freedom Forum, PEN International, PEN Melbourne, PEN Sydney, and the Refugee Council of Australia.
We urge you to get involved too. Please sign our petition asking the Nauru government to stop the internet shutdown and amend its criminal code, and share the link widely.
You can download the letter as a PDF here.