To mark the 2017 International Right to Know Day, Right2Know Campaign will hold pickets at the embassies of the Republic of Cameroon and the Republic of Togo in Pretoria from 11am to 1pm. Right2Know Campaign will also hold dialogues on Internet Freedom and online censorship in Cape Town and Durban on this day. The actions by Right2Know Campaign occur against the background of internet disruptions in at least eleven African countries in 2016. The number of disruptions this year, as of September 2017, is seven – Cameroon, Morocco, Mali, Senegal, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Togo.
The International Right to Know Day was proposed on 28 September 2002 at a meeting of freedom of information organisations “in order to raise awareness about people’s right to access government information while promoting freedom of information as essential to both democracy and good governance. Freedom of information organisations and advocates around the world have since marked the date with activities to celebrate and raise awareness of the right to information. In November 2015, a UNESCO resolution creating the International Day for the Universal Access to Information (commonly called the Access to Information Day) day was pushed by African civil society groups seeking greater information transparency. It was first held last year.
From January to April 2017, the government of the Republic of Cameroon shut down the internet in the territory of the Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) and conducted a campaign of terror, disappearing people, detaining journalists, surveilling phones through arbitrary searches and harassing citizens. This campaign, conducted with the complicity of MTN Cameroon, denied the citizens of the Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) access to information, freedom of expression and their right to protest. Right2Know calls on MTN to account. South African citizens are paying exorbitant data prices and the money is being used to pay for the costs of internet shutdowns in other countries. Whilst, the internet was eventually restored, Right2Know Campaign notes the renewed threats to shut it down again. We condemn these actions of the government of the Republic of Cameroon and warn them against any further attempts to deny the citizens of the Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) their information rights. We also call upon the Republic of Cameroon to free Ahmed Abba, who has been detained for the last 26 months, and is appealing a conviction under the so-called “terror law”. We demand the release of Mancho Bibixxy (alias Mancho BBC) who has been detained for more than 10 months now. We demand the release of all phone surveillance detainees. We are appalled by, and demand an immediate end to, the destruction of the Southern Cameroons Broadcasting Corporation’s infrastructure and the people’s satellite dishes.
Once again, as has become a harmful practice in some African countries in recent years, access to the Internet and Telecommunications services were disrupted in Togo in response to legitimate protests by citizens demanding greater political participation. It goes without saying that Togo is a country that cannot afford an Internet shutdown of any duration because of the negative impact on its economy and livelihoods of millions of people. Rather, we believe that the human rights to freedom of expression and association can be respected and protected in Togo, online as offline, in ways that strengthen both political and economic institutions in the country and region.
Internet shutdowns violate basic tenets of human rights and international law. They are not only illegal, but are also not a proportionate response to lawful citizen demands for democracy. Besides, Internet and Telecommunications services disruptions are dangerous because they lead to lack of information which leaves people isolated and cut off from essential services such as banking, healthcare and other opportunities for personal and community development.