Silencing Critical Voices: Our Online Civic Space is Shrinking

By Digital Shelter |

Somalia had recorded steady growth in telephone penetration – with 7.6 mobile subscribers. However, internet penetration remains low – 2% as at 2017, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The adoption of technology has expanded civic space in the post conflict era, with social media platforms and blogs empowering journalists, activists and human rights defenders to document and report human abuses, mobilize public opinioncampaign for reforms, share relevant content and information, and build networks at national and global level.

However, the past three years have seen a rise in threats against online freedom of expression, such as the arrest and intimidation of several journalists and social media campaigners for comments posted on social media. There are reports of dissenting social media accounts being hacked, while others have deactivated their accounts due to fear of attacks. A culture of censorship prevails, amidst a rise in sponsored trolls spreading misinformation and propaganda to counter factual narrative reported by journalists, human rights defenders and activists online.

It is against this background that Digital Shelter hosted a panel discussion on the shrinking online civic space in Somalia and the growing digital threats faced by media professionals, bloggers and human right defenders in the digital space on February 13, 2020. The event was part of series of activities under the theme “Protect our Online Space”, supported by the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) – an initiative of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

Among the panelists was Mohamed Irbad, a prominent blogger and researcher known for his critical writings on governance, human rights, freedom of expression and censorship on social media platforms. In early 2019, after publishing an article titled “Media Censorship In Somalia: A Nation Risk Into Information Darkness” on his personal blog, Mohamed faced serious online and physical threats which forced him to flee the country for six months due to fear for his safety.
“All critical voices, particularly individuals who are based inside Somalia have been silenced with online and physical threats altogether. For instance, when your raise critical issue on Twitter or Facebook you have two options, you either end up battling with anonymous trolls in their hundreds by answering to their toxic comments or you feel intimidated and sacred of writing about certain issues, hence, your remain silenced . And that is exactly what happened to me after writing that article. And therefore, it is fair to stay that we are witnessing the worst shrinking of our online/offline civic and democratic spaces” Mohamed Irbad.
Also speaking at the event was Hassan Ali Osman, a journalist, with the New Humanitarian newsletter. Hassan actively uses Twitter to disseminate local and international news as it breaks for his 90,000 followers. He shared that he has been constantly attacked by trolls merely because of reporting the truth on social media platforms.
Highlighting the issue of online violence against women was Sucdi Dahir Diriye, a passionate community volunteer and member of CaawiWalaal loosely translated as “HelpYourBrother” –  a digital campaign launched three years ago to support local communities affected by droughts in Somalia. As in most of the world, the internet has provided a platform for Somali women to amplify their voices. However, it has also enabled perpetuation of different forms of online violence against women including harassment, doxing, threats, stalking and blackmail, sometimes leading to physical violence. The targets of these attacks are women that are vocal on issues such as gender equality, sexual violence, free expression, or challenging the patriarchal structure of the society. This has created a hostile online environment for women and girls in Somalia, fraught with shaming, intimidation and degrading, leading to withdraw of from the online space.
As part of her work, Sucdi documents cases of online blackmailing and extortion against young girls in Mogadishu and other regions of Somalia. She stated that limited recognition of the existence of online violence and harassment against women in Somalia is allowing the abuse to continue inexorably. Relevant policies to address online violence against women need to be put in place and more women and girls need to be skilled in digital safety and security.
Based on their personal and professional experiences, the panelists stressed the need for counter measures against the prevailing threats. Among the recommendations made was increased digital security skills and knowledge building among activists, bloggers and media professionals. Specialized training on gendered online harassment was encouraged. Panelists also emphasized a dual approach in voice amplification – online and offline to reach wider audiences.  Furthermore, more stakeholder dialogue to raise awareness on online civic space and digital rights, including data protection and privacy inline with Somalia’s growing technology sector. Other recommendations included research undertakings on current digital threats in Somalia, to inform advocacy and policy interventions; and establishment of a solidarity network to support victims of online attacks.
“Digital Shelter is proud to be in a unique position to amplify voices in the most difficult time where the online civic space is shrinking in Somalia”, said Abdifatah, co-founder of Digital Shelter in the closing remarks of the forum.
Digital Shelter continues its “Protect our Online Space” drive during March 2020 with series of trainings on digital security. Digital Shelter is also planning to host other forums on expanding online civic space in Somalia.

This article was first published by the Digital Shelter on March 04, 2020

Building Digital Literacy and Security Capacity of Women Refugees in Uganda

By Ashnah Kalemera |
Statistics on the prevalence of cyber harassment of women in Africa remain scanty. Where some reports of cyber harassment of women in the region are available, the extent to which it affects women in marginalised communities is also not well known. Indeed, the growing proliferation of technology is reported to be facilitating online harassment of women by enabling the anonymity of the perpetrators who could be located anywhere and without physical contact with the victim. In many instances, cases of cyber harassment go unreported and victims have limited legal recourse or resources to  seek justice.
Figures show that in Europe, one in 10 women have been victims of cyber harassment, including having received unwanted, offensive sexually explicit emails or SMS messages, or unwarranted inappropriate advances on social networking sites. While contexts differ, it is possible that women in Africa who use digital communications technologies face similar or greater levels of harassment, given the low levels of digital literacy and poor mechanisms to fight online violence against women.
Interviews conducted in August 2019 with 35 women refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, South Sudan and Sudan, who are living in Uganda, showed that three in four of the respondents had experienced some form of cyber harassment including abuse, stalking, unwarranted sexual advances and hacking of social media accounts. The perpetrators included anonymous individuals, security agents in their home countries, known friends and ex-partners. 
The interviews were carried out as part of the digital literacy and security training for refugee rights defenders. Hosted in Kampala, Uganda by Access for All, the two days training engaged 80 participants and also covered aspects of digital activism and women’s participation in the information society. 
“Due to the rampant online harassment of women in Uganda, we believe that such a project would considerably benefit our members, for whom digital literacy and creative approaches to digital activism are vital in their everyday work and long-term development,” said Asan Juma, the Executive Director of Access for All. 
These online affronts against women refugees in Uganda run in parallel to gender-based violence in refugee camps, at border crossings and resettlement communities. According to the United Nations University (UNU), women refugees are often under threat of physical and sexual violence not only at the hands of fellow refugees and human traffickers but also national immigration administration, security forces and humanitarian staff. In these situations, UNU reports that access to justice and reparation for women refugees is limited.
Indeed, only a quarter of the refugee women interviewed who had experienced cyber harassment went on to report the cases to authorities. Among the reasons put forward for not reporting  was “unawareness of the existing laws that prohibit online harassment” and “distrust of the police.” The mistrust of law enforcement authorities stemmed from self consciousness over their nationality or refugee status, previous bad experiences with authorities in home countries and the perception that “police case handling is often in favour of nationals rather than refugees”. 
Those who did not report the cases of cyber harassment to law enforcement officials coped through support from friends or counselling. A few others stated that they “ignored” the incidents. In one instance where the harassment was perpetrated by a friend, the respondent indicated that rather than reporting the incident to the police, they “talked to the person and settled the matter.”
Other measures taken included blocking the perpetrators on social media platforms or reporting them to platform administrators for violation of user policies. One respondent confirmed that the account of the perpetrator was taken down by platform administrators following an abuse report. 
Beyond online harassment, other digital threats that the participants reported to have experienced included fraud, identity theft online, loss of devices, viruses and malware on their devices. Whereas the engagement provided digital safety skills and knowledge, physical security threats also remain a challenge. Beneficiaries called for more coordinated digital rights advocacy efforts focused on the needs and challenges of refugee communities, targeting both the refugees as beneficiaries but also key stakeholders in the realisation of these rights.  
Access For All was founded in South Sudan in 2016 with an aim to promote the rights of sexual minorities. In the same year, the organisation was shut down by the government. The founders fled South Sudan and sought asylum in Uganda, where they worked on health rights and dignity of urban refugee sexual minorities. 
As part of its work in Uganda, Access for All recognised that urban refugees faced heightened gender-based violence risks due to unmet multiple and complex social, economic and medical needs as well as intersecting oppressions based on race, ethnicity, nationality, language, sexual orientation and gender identity. Moreover, humanitarian programmes were found to focus less on serving refugees in urban areas and even less so on sexual minority refugees.
With a grant from the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) that is managed by CIPESA, Access for All was among the inaugural grantees in 2019 and carried out the bi-lingual (English and Arabic) interviews and training workshop, which  explored prevailing digital security/protection concerns among urban refugees in Uganda and mechanisms to address them.

‘People With Disabilities Left Out in ICT Jamboree’

By Marc Nkwame |
As more Tanzanians join the digital world of Information Communication Technology (ICT), the majority of people living with disabilities have been left out, according to stakeholders.
It has been observed that in their quest to optimize profits, equipment suppliers, content producers and mobile communication service providers skip the needs and rights of persons with disabilities wishing to access such services.
Speaking during a special awareness workshop for Information Communication and Technology accessibility among persons with disabilities, the coordinator, Paul Kimumwe from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) pointed out that it is high time countries formulated special laws to ensure that marginalized groups are also catered for when it comes to such services.
“And if countries have such policies in place, there is the need for legislators to push for their execution, as it seems mobile service providers cater only for a physically able clientele,” he specified.
His observation was also reflected in an assessment tool for measuring mobile communication accessibility for persons with physical disabilities deployed among participants during the just ended workshop on how ICT development side-lined people with special needs.
Dr Eliamani Laltaika, a lecturer from the School of Business Studies and Humanities at the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST), said the society’s mentality and personal stigma contribute in how ICT establishments view the needs of disabled persons.
“Unlike in the past, people should now realize that in the modern era, all is needed for a person to be useful is a healthy brain not peculiar appeal,” he cautioned.
According to the Don, it is usually the persons with physical disabilities that can prove to be extremely good intellectually and especially in Information Communication Technology (ICT), which means once empowered they can perform better than their physically fit counterparts.
Participants realized that mobile handsets are designed for people with hands and those with strong eye sights, while traders and phone service providers are yet to import gadgets that can cater for people without sight or hands.
Ndekirwa Pallangyo, representing the regional chapter for the Federation of Disabled Persons’ Associations in Tanzania (SHIVYAWATA), admitted that people with disabilities have been left out in ICT development.
“And the worst part of it is that even persons with disabilities themselves are unaware that they have been side-lined,” he said, underlining that when it comes to attending to the needs of the physically handicapped, it is important to consider individual requirements.
“There are those who are physically fit except for their sight. Others have impaired hearing, some can’t walk while there are those with no hands, etc. therefore each group need to be handled according to needs,” the activist added.
Originally published on IPP Media 

Recherche sur la liberté d’expression sur Internet au Sénégal

Par Diouf Astou, Jonction |
Aujourd’hui, les technologies de l’information et de la communication (TIC) constituent des leviers formidables  pour promouvoir et défendre les droits de l’homme. Elles offrent plusieurs espaces d’expression et de ce fait contribuent à l’exercice du droit à la liberté d’expression.
Toutefois, les Etats ne cessent de vouloir  réduire ces espaces numériques d’expression « soit en procédant à l’adoption de lois et réglementations répressives, soit en procédant à la violation des droits numériques par des arrestations et intimidations des usagers d’Internet, dans le but de catalyser la libre expression des internautes et la participation citoyenne à l’exercice de la démocratie ».
C’est dans ce contexte que Jonction a procédé à une recherche sur la liberté d’expression sur internet au Sénégal. Cette étude a pour  objectif principal de servir comme outil de plaidoyer et de renforcement des capacités à l’intention des parties prenantes (Etat, secteur privé et société civile) sur les questions et enjeux de la liberté d’expression sur Internet et de la confidentialité  sur Internet afin de construire une société de l’information respectueuse des droits de l’homme. Elle servira également de référence pour tous ceux qui souhaitent en connaitre un peu plus sur la liberté d’expression sur Internet au Sénégal.
Cette recherche a été possible grâce au soutien du programme Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF). Ce projet est initié par Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).
Le programme Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) a pour objectif « de mettre en œuvre des activités qui font progresser les droits numériques, notamment le plaidoyer, les litiges, la recherche, l’analyse politique, la culture numérique et le renforcement des compétences en sécurité numérique ».  L’ADRF a été développé pour renforcer les capacités locales en matière de recherche fondée sur des données probantes, de plaidoyer collaboratif et d’engagements politiques efficaces en réponse aux développements réglementaires et pratiques qui affectent la liberté de l’Internet dans la région.

Recherche sur la liberté d’expression sur Internet au Sénégal

L’auteur de l’étude est une juriste du nom de Astou DIOUF, elle coordonne le département de recherche à Jonction, une organisation de promotion et de défense des droits numériques. C’est une passionnée dans la défense et la promotion des droits numérique, notamment la cybercriminalité, la liberté d’expression, les données à caractère personnel et la cyber sécurité. Elle a soutenu son mémoire sur : l’instruction préparatoire en matière de Cybercriminalité pour l’obtention du diplôme de Master 2 en Droit à l’Université Cheikh Anta DIOP de Dakar.
Elle est également l’auteur d’une Etude Critique de la Stratégie Nationale de Cybersécurité du Sénégal.