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May 18, 2020
#KeepItOn: Joint letter on keeping the internet open and secure during the presidential elections in Burundi
Re: Internet access will ensure increased participation and transparency in Burundi’s presidential elections
Your Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, President of the Republic of Burundi
Général de Brigade Irambona Télesphore, Director General, Agence de Régulation et de Contrôle des Télécommunications (ARCT); Nestor Bankumukunzi, President of Conseil National de Communications, Burundi;
We, the undersigned organizations that make up the #KeepItOn coalition, a global network that unites over 210 organizations from 75 countries that seek to end internet shutdowns globally, write to urgently request that your office ensures the stability and openness of the internet and social media platforms before, during, and after the presidential elections in Burundi scheduled for May 20, 2020. We appeal to you, President Nkurunziza, to ensure that the internet and all other communication channels are open, secure, and accessible throughout the election period in the Republic of Burundi.
Access to the internet and social media platforms can significantly contribute to advancing citizens’ participation in important national events like elections, and citizens can use the internet to hold their elected leaders accountable. It is therefore important to guarantee an open, secure, and reliable internet.
We have received reports about the shrinking civic space in the country with increased reports of human rights violations, which has forced several journalists, activists, and opposition politicians to go into exile for fear of prosecution. We have also been informed that some independent media websites including Inzamba, Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) and Iwacu, remain inaccessible in Burundi, making it impossible for people to access information and content generated about the happenings in the country.
We are seriously concerned about the lack of an open and active civil society space in Burundi, which is essential for the success of any democracy. We use this medium to appeal to you to urgently adopt the necessary measures to ensure that freedom of expression and access to information rights are respected and guaranteed in Burundi.
Internet shutdowns harm human rights, disrupt emergency services, and harm economies
Research shows that internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand.,  Shutting down the internet during a deadly pandemic will add fuel to the fire. In addition, shutdowns will disrupt the free flow of information and shield human rights violations perpetrated within that period by both state and non-state actors from public scrutiny. Journalists and media workers will be unable to contact sources, gather information, or file stories about the electioneering process without access to digital communications tools. Justified for various reasons, internet shutdowns cut off access to vital and life-saving information, and emergency services, plunging whole communities into fear.
Moreover, the technical means used to block access to information online often dangerously undermine 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. Moreover, internet shutdowns will have a detrimental effect on people
Internet shutdowns contravene national and international laws
Internet shutdowns violate fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and the right to peaceful assembly, among others guaranteed by national, regional, and international frameworks such as the Constitution of the Republic of Burundi, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).
The U.N. Human Rights Committee, the official interpreter of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), emphasizes in its General Comment No. 34 that restrictions on speech online must be strictly necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate purpose. Shutdowns, by contrast, disproportionately impact all users, and unnecessarily restrict access to information and emergency services communications during crucial moments. Shutdowns are neither necessary nor effective at achieving a legitimate aim, as they block the spread of information, contribute to confusion and disorder, and obstruct public safety.
As a coalition that believes in the internet as an enabler of all other human rights, we are confident that access to the internet and social media platforms can foster transparent and fair outcomes of the upcoming presidential elections through citizens’ active participation.
We, therefore, call on you to undertake the necessary measures to ensure that the internet service providers and relevant actors ensure an open, accessible, and secure internet across Burundi throughout this critical period.
We respectfully request that you use the important positions of your good offices to:
- Ensure that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, remains accessible throughout the elections;
- Ensure that the Agence de Régulation et de Contrôle des Télécommunications (ARCT) and the Conseil National de la Communication take all the necessary regulatory measures to ensure internet service providers (ISPs) inform people of any form of disruption or interference in the provision of internet access;
- Order the unblocking of all websites of independent media outlets that are currently inaccessible in the country.
We are happy to assist you in any of these matters.
Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation (AODIRF)
ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa
Bloggers of Zambia
Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI)
Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Gambia Press Union (GPU)
Human Rights Foundation
Human Rights Network for Journalists in Uganda (HRNJ-U)
Iraqi Network for Social Media – INSM
International Press Centre (IPC)
Internet sans frontières
Jamii Forums, Tanzania
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute for Southern Africa, Zimbabwe
Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD)
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Namibia Media Trust
NetFreedom Pioneers (NFP)
PanAfrican league of bloggers and cyberActivists – AfricTivistes
Réseau des Journalistes Burundais pour la CPI, (RJB-CPI)
Right2Know Campaign, South Africa
Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet)
Unwanted Witness, Uganda
Villes et Communes
1 An internet shutdown is defined as an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information. See more at Access Now.
2 Anita R. Gohdes, “Pulling the Plug: Network Disruptions and Violence in Civil Conflict,” Journal of Peace Research, January 31, 2014.
3 Darrell West, “Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion last year,” Brookings Institution, October 2016; Jonathan Rozen, “Journalists under duress: Internet shutdowns in Africa are stifling press freedom,” Africa Portal, August 17, 2017.
4 U.N. Human Rights Committee, “General Comment No. 34,” United Nations, July 2011.