With only four days to go before Tanzania’s hotly contested presidential election on October 28, the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) has ordered telco service providers to suspend access to bulk short messaging services (SMS) and bulk voice services. We have also received reports that individual text messages with election-related keywords are being blocked, and more expansive internet blocking may follow.
This is the latest development in a series of government actions to undermine digital rights in the country.
Access Now, together with 28 human rights groups from around the world that are members of the #KeepItOn coalition, via an open letter, are urgently calling on President John Magufuli and TCRA Director James Kilaba to ensure that the internet and all other communication channels are open, secure, and accessible throughout the election period and thereafter.
“Introducing such restrictive measures aimed at limiting people’s online and offline rights undermines the possibility of a free, fair, and transparent election,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “The government of Tanzania must ensure an open and accessible digital space for all by immediately putting an end to such premeditated acts aimed at preventing people from actively engaging in the election process.”
“We call on the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority to reverse the recent directive issued to telecom service providers,” said Berhan Taye, the Africa Policy Manager and Global Internet Shutdowns Lead at Access Now. “Censorship and free and fair elections do not go together.”
The government of Tanzania must urgently take the following steps to facilitate transparency and enable citizens’ active participation in the upcoming election:
- Reverse the TCRA directive ordering telcos to restrict services, and rather encourage telcos to ensure quality service to everyone throughout the election period.
- Ensure that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, remains open, accessible, and secure across Tanzania throughout the election.
- Order internet service providers operating in Tanzania to provide everyone with high-quality, secure, and unrestricted internet access throughout the election period and thereafter.
- Order internet service providers operating in the country to inform internet users of any disruptions and to work around the clock to fix any identified disruptions likely to impact the quality of service they receive.
Across the globe, elections are a trigger point for governments to disrupt access to the internet and other digital communications platforms, among other repressive acts aimed at limiting people’s online and offline activities.
The internet and digital communications tools play a crucial role in enabling people to exercise fundamental rights such as freedom of opinion and expression, access to information, and freedom of assembly.
The #KeepItOn coalition monitors potential disruptions, distributes circumvention resources, and urges authorities around the world to ensure access to open and secure internet and digital platforms during important national events like elections.