Update, 3/12/2018: U.N. High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has now provided an oral update on the situation in Cameroon to the 37th session of the Human Rights Council, March 7, 2018, stating, “I urge the Government to make every effort to de-escalate the conflict in the Anglophone regions, and to allow unimpeded access to human rights monitors so that accurate information on the situation can inform constructive engagement on the way forward.”
Access Now thanks the High Commissioner for clearly calling on Cameroon to allow U.N. monitors and noting the need for accurate information on the conflict and its impacts.
It has come without fanfare, and with widespread lack of confidence in its permanency, but the latest internet shutdown in Anglophone Cameroon has largely come to an end.
Activists in Cameroon and a global community of supporters have been fighting to #BringBackOurInternet since October 2017. With mounting international pressure, and the arrival of a delegation of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to inspect Cameroon’s readiness to host next year’s African Cup of Nations, the government finally restored internet access throughout the affected regions after 136 days of blocking.
Since then, there have been mixed reports regarding network stability and access to individual websites. While many Cameroonians are now able to reach social media sites, the speed of the network has been reduced to the point that — in many cases — it is impossible to upload or even view videos and photos. And as many as half of websites reported to the #KeepitOn coalition are still only accessible through a VPN.
These problems are not unique to Cameroon. What started as temporary internet shutdowns in countries around the world have left lingering impacts of degraded infrastructure and entrenched content censorship.
Access Now and our partners in the #KeepItOn coalition are working hard to gather more evidence about what exactly continues to disrupt Cameroonians’ full, unrestricted use of the internet. Despite the improvements in connectivity, we cannot settle for anything less than a complete restoration of services for all. In Anglophone Cameroon, people are struggling to keep the doors open on their small businesses. They are fighting to share content highlighting human rights abuses perpetrated in their communities. And they are working to restore critical services like education and healthcare, all of which depend on stable access to the internet.
Tensions are only likely to increase leading up to presidential elections in October, when opposition candidates will attempt to unseat President Paul Biya, who has held power in Cameroon since 1982 and now has a track record of repeatedly shutting down the internet to silence dissent. The international community must stay vigilant in our support of local Cameroon activists in their fight to #KeepItOn. Here’s what you can do:
Share resources for Cameroonians to document the impacts of these network disruptions, including the #KeepItOn Shutdown Stories Project and technical monitoring tools like ooniprobe. These efforts help services like Access Now’s Digital Security Helpline to provide more effective assistance in circumventing censorship and network blocks, and provide the evidence needed to hold governments accountable for illegally shutting down the internet. (Find out more about our legal intervention in a case against Cameroon’s government for shutting down the internet last year here.)
Continue to engage with Cameroonians through #BringBackOurInternet and #KeepItOn to show solidarity in their fight to maintain full access to their human rights online, especially in the lead up to the election, and to signal to the Cameroonian government that the world is still watching. Some important Cameroonian voices to follow include @judithnwana and @africatechie.
Support our global fight to prevent, detect, and mitigate internet shutdowns wherever they occur. In 2018, Cameroon is one of dozens of countries that will undergo tense election cycles triggering potential censorship, network disruptions, and other restrictions to free expression and access to information. Your contribution can help us to do everything it takes to #KeepItOn so those most at risk can stay safe, engage in the democratic process, organize for change, and exercise their fundamental human rights.
Thank you for your commitment to this movement. Together, we can #KeepItOn.