Paris February 23, 2018
To : the Prime Minister of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),
the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications
Re: Internet Connectivity in the Democratic Republic of Congo
We are writing to humbly request that you avoid ordering an Internet shutdown in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in preparation of the march backed by the country’s Catholic Church on February 25. Multiple reports, including ours, indicate that your government has previously ordered internet service providers to block online communications during such periods when access to communication is at its most critical for citizens.
Internet Shutdowns disrupt the free flow of information and create a cover of darkness that allows repression to occur without scrutiny. The DR Congo has already joined an alarming global trend of government-mandated Internet shutdowns for political reasons, a practice that many African Union member governments have recently adopted, including Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, Egypt, Sudan, and the Central African Republic.
Research shows that internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand. This was the case in the DRC during the last march organised by the Catholic Church on January 21, 2018. Seven people were killed and several others were wounded and arrested. The DRC should safeguard principles of transparency and freedom of expression, which are necessary conditions of an appeased debate on the country’s Democracy.
A recent research shows that Internet shutdowns have cost the African continent $235 million since 2015. According to analysts, companies, such as Vodacom, Airtel, Orange / Tigo, or Africell, could lose up to 1.5 million USD of revenue in case of a 3-day shutdown.
The economic costs of another internet shutdown would be too substantial to ignore. They persist far beyond the days on which the disruption occurs. Indeed, they have a negative systematic effect not only on the supply chain but also on investor confidence and risk premiums in the long run.
A growing body of jurisprudence declares shutdowns to violate international law. The United Nations Human Rights Council has spoken out strongly against internet shutdowns. In its 32nd Session, in July 2016, the Council passed by consensus a resolution on freedom of expression and the internet with operative language on internet shutdowns. The resolution, A/HRC/RES/32/13, “condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law and calls on all States to refrain from and cease such measures.” The Council intended this clear declaration to combat the blocking and throttling of networks, applications, and services that facilitate the freedoms of expression, opinion, and access to information online.
In 2015, various experts from the United Nations (UN) Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), issued an historic statement declaring that internet “kill switches” can never be justified under international human rights law, even in times of conflict. General Comment 34 of the UN Human Rights Committee, the official interpreter of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, emphasizes that restrictions on speech online must be strictly necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate purpose. Shutdowns disproportionately affect all users, and unnecessarily restrict access to information and emergency services communications during crucial moments.
The internet has enabled significant advances in health, education, and creativity, and it is now essential to fully realize human rights including participation in democracy and access to information.
We humbly remind you of the country’s international commitments and request that you use the vital position of your good office to :
We are happy to assist you in any of these matters. Sincerely,
Internet Sans Frontières
#Blogoma, (Blogosphère gomatracienne)
Campagne Human Rights and Development International
Campagne Tournons la page
Digital Rights Foundation
I Freedom Uganda Network
Reporters Sans Frontières
Blueprint for Free Speech