HRC44: Cease Internet shutdowns during protest

ARTICLE 19’s full statement for the interactive dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly at the 44th Session of the Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur’s annual report mapped trends to protest over the past 10 years, and put forward “strategic issue areas” to focus on as we look to the future, including internet shutdowns.

ARTICLE 19 urged all States at the Human Rights Council to join the Special Rapporteur to increase scrutiny of internet shutdowns in the context of protests.

ARTICLE 19 thanks the Special Rapporteur for his report. Over the last 10 years, the mandate has made vital contributions in enhancing international standards around protest, online and offline. As we look to the future, it is paramount that we address emerging opportunities and threats, particularly with regards to digital technologies.

ARTICLE 19 share your concerns that governments across the globe are increasingly cutting off access to the internet during mass demonstrations, including shutdowns, blocking of websites and disruptions to mobile services. These measures do not occur in a vacuum – they are often imposed to conceal and facilitate grave human rights violations, from mass arrests to killings.

In Ethiopia, for example, the security forces have now killed over 150 protesters during recent demonstrations alongside ongoing disruptions to internet services. We call on the government to immediately cease and launch investigations into the use of lethal force against protestors, and to restore the internet connection to ensure the free flow of information at this vital time.

In Guinea, disruptions to the internet were introduced as part of repression before and during elections of 22 March 2020. The crackdown resulted in at least 10 deaths the day of the vote, as well as more deaths over following days, as well as several arrests, including parliamentarians and members of the main opposition party. There must be accountability for these measures.

In Iran, the authorities resorted to the unlawful use of lethal use of force and mass arrests amid unprecedented internet controls during the nationwide protests in November 2019. We are gravely concerned over the confirmation of death sentences against Amir-Hossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi and Saeed Tamjidi following grossly unfair trials in relation to the protests. The authorities must immediately overturn their death sentences and investigate their allegations of torture.

This Council has condemned unequivocally measures to prevent or disrupt individuals’ ability to seek, receive or impart information online. The use of internet shutdowns are, de facto, a disproportionate infringement on the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. We urge all States at the Human Rights Council to join the Special Rapporteur and increase scrutiny of this issue, particularly in the context of protests.