ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa is calling on Burundi officials to immediately cease the ongoing disruption of access to social media and messaging applications as Burundi kicked off its presidential elections today, Wednesday 20 May, 2020. According to reports, Twitter, Instagram WhatsApp, Facebook and Telegram (amongst other platforms) continue to be unavailable in the country.
“The ongoing disruption subverts the protection and promotion of freedom of expression and access to information in Burundi. Such disruptions are unacceptable and cast a shadow over the proper exercise of citizens’ ability to enjoy their democratic rights. Burundian officials must immediately cease the ongoing disruptions,” said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director at ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
On Monday 18 May, 2020, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa joined thirty (30) other organisations in sending a letter to President Pierre Nkurunziza appealing for the stability and openness of the Internet and social media platforms before, during, and after the presidential elections in Burundi.
The signatories reminded the President that the Internet and social media platforms enable democratic participation and provide citizens with an opportunity to exercise their right to freedom of expression and access to information. Further, the joint letter expressed concerns about Burundi’s shrinking civic space and restrictions on media freedom for independent media websites. The letter noted that internet shutdowns violate international and regional freedom of expression and access to information laws, and demonstrated the human and financial cost of internet shutdowns.
The signatories called for the following: –
- 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 inform people of any form of disruption or interference in the provision of internet access; and
- Order the unblocking of all websites of independent media outlets that are currently inaccessible in the country.