ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the ongoing Internet shut downs in North West and South West regions of Cameroon. The shutdowns came in response to protests by Anglophone citizens, unsatisfied with what they believe is bias by the government in favor of Francophone Cameroonians.
“Cutting off Internet access for specific groups or areas deprives people of an essential tool for civic engagement, and damages connectivity on the Internet as a global network of networks. This response is another step in a very worrying, repressive trend that is sweeping across the African continent. Individuals, governments and companies need to stand together to keep Internet open and available as a crucial instrument for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” said Niels ten Oever, ARTICLE 19’s Head of Digital.
The measures taken by the Cameroonian authorities ordering the state-owned Cameroon Telecommunications company CAMTEL, and the companies that operate as CAMTEL’S backbone, to restrict access to the Internet for the predominantly English speaking North West and South West regions of the country starting end of January 2017, amounts to a serious interference with the right to freedom of expression. As such, this restriction – and the outlawing of the activities of various Anglophone groups – must be assessed for their compliance with international human rights law and constitutional guarantees, particularly at times when the enjoyment of freedom of expression is critical to peaceful protest.
ARTICLE 19 believes that the Internet shut down, which includes social media websites and communications tools, amounts to an interference with the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 16 of the Cameroon Constitution. Under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and its equivalent in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (Article 19) and the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights (Article 9), Cameroon must ensure that restrictions on freedom of expression comply with a three-part permissible limitations test: they must be in accordance with the law, in pursuit of a legitimate aim, and necessary in a democratic society.
Access to the Internet is a crucial means by which individuals enjoy their rights to express and communicate, receive and impart information, and politically organise and associate. In the digital age, unfettered access to the Internet and its many tools for communication is a cornerstone of any vibrant democracy. It plays a particularly important role during moments of political change, including elections, protests and strikes, during which individuals rely on social media to become informed about ongoing events and share their views.
ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Cameroonian government to restore Internet access for all its citizens, and refrain from using restrictions on Internet access as a tool to repress dissent and limit freedom of expression.