Special Rapporteur Condemns Internet Shutdown in Africa

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The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Advocate Pansy Tlakula,  has called on State Parties to the African Charters on Human and People’s Right to cease the practice of interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services.

In her report presented at the 59th Ordinary Session of the Commission, held in Banjul, The Gambia, from October 21 to November 4, 2016. Advocate Tlakula noted with concern the emerging practice of State Parties interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the Internet, social media and messaging services during electoral periods. She urged State Parties to cease this practice, amongst other recommendations.

Advocate Tlakula stated that she received several reports alleging violations of freedom of expression in various countries, including Burundi, Lesotho, South Sudan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

She explained that a number of these reports alleged harassment of journalists and other media practitioners in violation of the African Charter and the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa.

The Special Rapporteur noted that no formal response has been received at the Commission concerning the allegations despite the fact that she has asked for clarification on the details from the countries concerned.

The Special Rapporteur reiterated her call to State Parties to repeal all criminal defamation laws and to further investigate and punish perpetrators of murder, kidnapping, torture, harassment and intimidation of journalists, in accordance with the Declaration and Article 9 of the African Charter.

She highlighted the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa which underscores the vital nature of freedom of expression and reaffirms the fundamental importance of freedom of expression as an individual human right, as a cornerstone of democracy and as a means of ensuring respect for all human rights and freedoms.

She stressed that laws and customs that repress freedom of expression are a disservice to society.

The Special Rapporteur also called on State Parties to the African Chaters holding elections in the coming months to ensure the protection of journalists and media practitioners, in accordance with the African Charter and the Declaration.

The Special Rapporteur also called on State Parties with pending access to information  bills to ensure adoption and implementation of these important laws, and reiterated her call to the Republic of Ghana to adopt the Right to Information Bill which has been pending for several years.