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CSOs Urge Government: Keep Internet On During Elections

Civil Groups Warn Against Internet Shutdowns in Election Period

by Adenike Adeodun

As more and more societal functions, including elections, become digitized, the internet plays an increasingly important role in promoting democratic practices. In light of this, a coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) is calling on the Ghanaian government to ensure uninterrupted internet access during this year’s election period.

During a recent workshop in Accra, organized by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and Access Now, stakeholders discussed the detrimental impacts of internet shutdowns observed globally. Felicia Anthonio, the Manager of the KeepItOn campaign initiated by Access Now, highlighted that internet shutdowns had occurred in 24 countries during election periods, significantly undermining a broad spectrum of fundamental rights and freedoms. This year, with national elections scheduled in at least 64 countries, Anthonio emphasized that “the stakes for democracy and human rights are higher than ever.”

Internet shutdowns, as defined by activists, involve the intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, making these services inaccessible or unusable for a specific population or within a certain area. This practice is often employed by governments to control the flow of information during critical times such as elections or mass protests. However, such actions not only infringe on human rights but also stifle economic development and disrupt everyday activities, affecting communication, business operations, and access to educational resources.

The economic repercussions of internet shutdowns are profound. Businesses that rely on digital platforms suffer significant losses, educational pursuits are halted, and access to crucial online services is impeded. The social fabric of communities is also affected, as individuals are cut off from digital communication tools that facilitate the sharing of information and ideas. Anthonio pointed out that these shutdowns are fundamentally unacceptable and urged governments worldwide to uphold their duty to protect the rights of their citizens by keeping the internet accessible, especially during such pivotal times as elections.

The workshop held in Accra served not only as a platform for discussion but also as a training session for participants from various human rights and media organizations. It aimed to empower them to effectively mobilize against threats of internet shutdowns and explore proactive strategies to mitigate such risks. The convening highlighted the necessity for collaborative efforts among stakeholders to address and advocate against the curtailing of internet freedom.

In her powerful address, Anthonio called on election observer groups to consider internet shutdowns as a critical indicator of the fairness and freeness of elections. She argued that restricting internet access limits public participation in the electoral process, thus compromising the fairness of the elections. She also challenged the justification often used by governments for internet shutdowns—national security—asserting that this rationale should not be misused to undermine democratic engagement.

Looking ahead, Anthonio proposed that instead of restricting internet access, efforts should be intensified to broaden it to enrich national discourse. This approach would not only ensure a more informed electorate but also enhance transparency and accountability in the electoral process.

As Ghana gears up for its general elections, the call from CSOs to prevent internet shutdowns resonates with a broader global demand for digital rights protection. Ensuring uninterrupted internet access is crucial for maintaining a democratic environment where citizens can freely obtain and disseminate information, engage in meaningful discourse, and participate fully in electoral processes. This stance is not merely about safeguarding internet connectivity; it is about upholding the democratic values that are fundamental to modern governance and societal well-being.

Source: Graphic Online

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