Lagos, Nigeria, August 11th, 2022: Paradigm Initiative condemns, in the strongest terms possible, the internet shutdown that occurred in Sierra Leone following political protests that erupted.
These shutdowns go against Chapter Three of Sierra Leone’s Constitution, which assures its citizens of their rights to freedom of conscience, expression, assembly and association.
Article 9 (1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights also provides access to information as the right to receive information and is echoed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under Article 19(2).
This will not be the first time Sierra Leone is shutting down the internet for its people, as is now characteristic of African governments during protests or when elections draw near.
Furthermore, shutdowns create significant obstacles that damage the free flow of information, which may, in turn, erode trust in electoral processes and increase the likelihood of hostilities and violence.
Shutdowns may also lead to the disruption of financial transactions, commerce, industry, labour markets and the availability of platforms for the delivery of services.
As spelt out by Principle 37 of the Declaration of Principles On Freedom Of Expression And Access To Information In Africa, states must facilitate the rights to freedom of expression and access to information online and the means necessary to exercise these rights. They must also recognize that universal, equitable, affordable and meaningful access to the internet is necessary to realise freedom of expression, access to information and exercise other human rights.
The government also failed to acknowledge or provide an explanation for the measures, including their legal basis and underlying grounds.
Furthermore, PIN calls on the government of Sierra Leone to adhere to the objective of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance under Article 2(10) to promote the establishment of necessary conditions to foster citizen participation, transparency, access to information, freedom of the press and accountability in the management of public affairs. An open internet will ensure this compliance and the promotion of human rights under Article four of the same.
We urge the government authorities to respect their citizens’ rights and desist from further attempts at future shutdowns.
Paradigm Initiative (PIN) is a social enterprise that builds ICT-enabled support systems and advocates for digital rights to improve the livelihoods of under-served young Africans. The organization has worked in communities across Nigeria since 2007 and across Africa since 2017, building experience, community trust and an organizational culture that positions it as a leading social enterprise in ICT for Development and Digital Rights on the continent.
The digital rights advocacy program is focused on the development of public policy for internet freedom in Africa, with offices in Abuja, Nigeria (covering the Anglophone West Africa region); Yaoundé, Cameroon (Central Africa); Nairobi, Kenya (East Africa), Lusaka, Zambia (Southern Africa), Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and Dakar, Senegal.
PIN has built online platforms that educate and serve as safe spaces for reporting digital rights violations. These mediums, in the form of reports, short films, and educational online platforms, include Ayeta, Londa and Ripoti.
Paradigm Initiative is also the convener of the Digital Rights and Inclusion Forum (DRIF), a pan-African bilingual forum held annually since 2013.