Paris – L’Association Francophone pour les Droits de l’Homme has joined 51 organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition in an urgent appeal to the Nigerian government to ensure no interruption of internet services as well interference in all other digital communication channels throughout the Republic, especially during this period of ongoing demonstrations.
The internet plays a crucial role in enabling people to access information that will help ensure their safety, especially under rapidly changing circumstances, as is the current scenario in Nigeria. An internet shutdown or digital communication blackout during the ongoing protests against brutalities perpetrated by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) is likely to endanger more lives, and prevent people from accessing safe havens.
In the letter, the signatories noted, “This exceptional moment in Nigeria reinforces the need for the government to ensure the security of the protesters, notably given recent reports of attacks from security forces and armed militia. The government should respectfully engage the protesters, protect their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression, and warrant that there will be no profiling of demonstrators.”
Research has shown that internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand. Shutting down the internet during these critical moments in Nigeria would add fuel to the fire. Interrupting the Internet violates fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression and opinion, access to information, press freedom, and freedom of assembly. By disrupting the free flow of information, shutdowns exacerbate any existing tensions in society and increase the likelihood of protests, as well as serving to conceal any violence and human rights violations perpetrated either by state or non-state actors. Also, without access to communications tools, journalists and the media would be unable to report freely and safely.
Free and open internet has fostered unprecedented creativity and innovation, provided access to information, and opened other kinds of social, economic, cultural, and political opportunities across the globe. We have only seen this underscored throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The technical means used to block access to information online often dangerously undermines the stability and resilience of the internet. Network disruptions also destabilize the internet’s power to support small business livelihoods and to drive economic development.
“Although governments attempt to justify network disruptions for various reasons, in reality, internet shutdowns deny people access to vital and life-saving information, and emergency services, plunging whole communities into fear and confusion,” the undersigned added.
Internet shutdowns violate provisions of the national constitution of Nigeria, as well as regional and international frameworks, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), which Nigeria has ratified. In terms of Principle 38 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, states shall not engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet and other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population.
The coalition believes, “In the internet as an enabler of all other human rights, and called on the Nigerian President to undertake the necessary measures to ensure that the internet service providers and relevant actors ensure an open, accessible, and secure internet across Nigeria throughout this period and beyond. We respectfully request that you use the important position of your offices to:
- Ensure that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, remains open, accessible, inclusive, and secure across the Federal Republic of Nigeria;
- Publicly assure the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that the internet and all social media platforms will be on, and to notify the public of any disruptions;
- Order the various ISPs operating in the country to provide quality, secure, freely open internet and inform internet users of any disruptions and work around the clock to fix any identified disruptions likely to impact the quality of service they receive; and
- Ensure the security of protesters and that they will not be surveilled and profiled for retribution.”