ECOWAS Court Rules 2017 Internet Shutdown in Togo Illegal, Orders Government to Safeguard Right  to Freedom of Expression


AIT-Images-25-2In a landmark decision in a lawsuit filed by Amnesty International in Togo and other applicants against the Togolese government, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice has ruled that the September 2017 restrictions on internet access in Togo was illegal and an affront to the  right to freedom of expression.

The court ordered the government of Togo to pay two million CFA to the plaintiffs as compensation and to take all the necessary measures to guarantee the implementation of safeguards with respect to the right to freedom of expression of the Togolese people.

In 2019, a coalition of eight organisations led by Access Now submitted a “friends of the court” or amici curiae brief, in the lawsuit filed by Amnesty International Togo and other applicants. The other organisations include the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), ARTICLE 19, Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), the NetBlocks Group, and The Paradigm Initiative (PI).

Prior to the judgment, there were efforts made by the Togolese government to block the submission, but oral and written arguments by Access Now staff, including Natalia Krapiva and Laura O’Brien, as well as local counsel Oluwatosin S. Adegun of T&T Legal Practitioners, and other partners were successful in defending against attempts by the defendant, thereby convincing the Court to hear from interested third parties.

Anthony Jones and Can Yeginsu both barristers of 4 New Square also offered pro bono legal assistance throughout the proceedings.

The coalition expressed concerns in its brief around the growing trend of internet shutdowns globally and by West African nations in particular, arguing that the shutdown was inconsistent with regional and international frameworks and violated the fundamental human rights of the Togolese people.

Similarly, on June 3 2020, the Jakarta State Administrative Court passed a judgment that the deliberate 2019 internet shutdowns in Papua and West Papua violated the country’s law.

“We are incredibly satisfied by the ECOWAS court ruling that blackouts in Togo were illegal,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner, #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “We are happy to see more rulings against internet shutdowns being issued by the courts across the globe, and view today’s outcome as a positive step towards ending internet shutdowns globally” she added.

“Congratulations to the civil society of Togo, who brought the world’s attention to this egregious censorship and held their government accountable for interfering with their work advancing the public interest and democratic values,” said Peter Micek, General Counsel at Access Now. “Digital rights are human rights, the court has declared, and Togo’s government must meet its commitments to protect human rights, online as offline.” He added.

The #KeepItOn coalition and Access Now welcome this landmark ruling denouncing internet shutdowns and upholding digital rights and are encouraging more citizens touse the courts in the fight against internet shutdowns.