13 November 2017

Somalia: Internet Shutdown Ahead of Somaliland Polls

Photo: Rooble Mohamed/Twitter
Stones used to reserve places in queues at Somaliland polling stations.

Mogadishu — THERE are doubts over the prospects of free and fair elections in the self-declared autonomous state of Somaliland after government imposed a shutdown of social media. The elections are set for today (Monday) and the shutdown is in force until results are published.

It is unclear when the outcome of the third presidential poll since independence from Somalia in 1991 will be announced. The government of outgoing President, Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud, has justified the ban on the grounds that election commentary may spark violence or the proliferation of "fake news" but rights groups insist the public's access to information is key to free and fair elections.

A joint declaration by inter-governmental experts on freedom of expression states that shutting down entire parts of communications systems could never be justified under human rights law. Laetitia Bader, human rights advocate, said authorities must acknowledge the critical role the internet played in its development and democratisation process.

"If they are concerned about the spread of fake news and social unrest, they can disseminate accurate information and discourage violence," she said. Bader said Somaliland had the chance to conduct elections in a manner that promoted genuine participation. "It should step back from taking measures that would thwart this."

Elections in the country of 3,5 million people were scheduled for March but were postponed due to drought. The internet shutdown is a first in Somaliland but not in the region.

Telecommunications authorities in Ethiopia, South Sudan and Sudan have deliberately blocked the internet for days or longer during periods of social unrest and elections.

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