28 April 2019

Benin - Internet Shutdown On Election Day a Blunt Attack On Freedom of Expression

Photo: Carine Frenk/FRI
Citizens were called to the polls on April 28th to elect their deputies in a historic election where the opposition was not allowed to run for office - an unprecedented situation that was felt in polling stations.

Following the Internet shutdown in Benin as the country holds parliamentary elections today, François Patuel, Amnesty International's West Africa Researcher, said: "The decision to shut down access to the Internet and social media on an election day is a blunt violation of the right to freedom of expression.

"It is effectively silencing human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers who are monitoring contested parliamentary elections without opposition candidates.

"We call on the authorities of Benin to immediately lift all blanket restrictions on access to the internet and social media to enable people to freely express their opinions and report on any election-related matter."

Internet shutdown

Today authorities in Benin have shut down the access to social media as the country's parliamentary elections are taking place without opposition parties. This week, Amnesty International warned that the wave of arbitrary arrests of political activists and journalists, and the crackdown on peaceful protests, had reached an alarming level in Benin ahead of the vote.

Since the beginning of the year, at least five Internet shutdowns have been documented in sub-Saharan Africa, including in Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Mali and Zimbabwe.

Internet shutdowns are a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression protected under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, to which Benin is a party.

In 2016, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' rights adopted a resolution on the right to freedom of information and expression on the internet in Africa in which it expressed its concerns over "the emerging practice of State Parties of interrupting or limiting access to telecommunications services such as the Internet, social media and messaging services, increasingly during elections."

Amnesty International, the #KeepItOnCoalition and other organisations wrote an open letter to the Beninese authorities to call on them to restore access to Internet.

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