African Countries Engage in Regional Dialogue Over Internet Universality Indicators Study

By UNESCO |

On 16 March 2022, UNESCO, jointly with the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) convened a regional dialogue on implementing Internet Universality ROAM-X Indicators (IUI) in Africa.

The event, supported by the  International Program for Development of Communication (IPDC) of UNESCO,  gathered a number of leading  national actors and experts who shared best practice and lessons learned from implementing national assessments of ROAM-X indicators in Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Niger and Senegal.

Juliet Nanfuka representing CIPESA opened the session by recalling that the event builds on CIPESA’s joint efforts and long-term partnership  with UNESCO to raise awareness on the intersection of access to information and application of the ROAM-X indicators  initiated at World Press Freedom Day celebrations in 2018 and the same year’s Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa as part of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).

Xianhong Hu, UNESCO’s focal point of the ROAM-X project, presented the global progress of assessing ROAM-X indicators in 45 countries and highlighted Africa as the leading continent with 17 countries having undertaken the assessment. Ms Hu stressed the urgent need to scale up the ROAM-X indicators’ assessments in more African countries to promote meaningful connectivity and humanistic digital transformation for advancing human rights and sustainable development.

“Africa needs to adjust its digital policy to be more inclusive and the ROAM-X indicators assessment would make a huge difference to support African countries’ inclusive digital transformation and build evidence-based policies.” Dorothy GordonChair of UNESCO’s Information For All Programme (IFAP)

 

Giving perspectives from West Africa, Professor Alain Kiyindou, Lead researcher of the assessment in Benin and Niger, pointed out the gender inequalities in access to Internet and in the workplace and called for more inclusion of African actors and vulnerable groups in the digital space as well as in the composition of national Multi-stakeholder Advisory Boards and research teams.

Also giving a West African perspective, Dr. Gideon Anapey, researcher for the assessment in Ghana, stressed that, “For African Member States to engage with UNESCO and initiate the ROAM-X project in the region, there is a strong need for capacity building that consists in deepening awareness on ROAM-X, fostering various stakeholders’ engagement, covering ICT integration and inclusion”.

Aderaw Tassew, Mr Asrat Mulatu (Ph.D), both representing Ethiopia and Ms Grace Githaiga from the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) presented on how they approached the assessment in their respective countries alongside highlighting the potential opportunities held by the indicators. Despite vast dissimilarities between the two countries in Internet access, they noted shared challenges unveiled by the assessment including on data collection, funding, political instability, weak legal frameworks and political will, digital literacy gaps, and various levels of the abuse of digital rights.

UNESCO and CIPESA jointly call for more African countries to take up the national assessment of ROAM-X indicators to promote Internet reforms for advancing media freedom and digital rights in Africa.  Following the webinar, in-country training sessions on the indicators will be conducted by CIPESA in Cameroon, Malawi, Namibia, Somalia and Uganda. Member States that are interested in  getting involved are invited to reach out to CIPESA: [email protected].

In 2015, the 38th General Conference of UNESCO endorsed a new definition on the Universality of the Internet based upon four principles – Rights, Openness, Accessibility to all and Multi-stakeholder participation- the ROAM principles. The four pillars outline a comprehensive framework for the assessment of national digital landscapes towards focusing on multiple dimensions of human rights, open Internet, quality of access and inclusive multi-stakeholder governance, promoting the growth and evolution of the Internet, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

This article was first published by UNESCO on March 22, 2022

Sudan’s Bad Laws, Internet Censorship and Repressed Civil Liberties

By Khattab Hamad and CIPESA Writer | 

On December 19, 2021, the third anniversary of the start of the uprising that overthrew former Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir, protests against the current military rulers rocked the capital Khartoum. Yet these demonstrations are only a small part of the north African country’s challenges, as it remains saddled with a slew of repressive laws that undermine civil liberties, with the digital civic space particularly under attack.

Sudan’s 2019 constitution grants citizens the right to privacy (article 55) and to free expression (article 57) and “the right to access the internet” (article 57(2)). As of December 2020, Sudan had 34.2 million mobile subscriptions while internet subscriptions stood at 13.7 million, representing a penetration of 31%. Sudan has the most affordable mobile internet in Africa and is ranked among the five least expensive countries for mobile internet globally.

Despite the constitutional guarantees and proliferation of technology, a new briefing paper by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) shows that the state of digital rights remains precarious, with the cybercrimes law enabling the military rulers to harass dissenters and critics under the guise of fighting false information online. 

Frequent internet shutdowns remain a constant reminder that the government will go to great lengths to control access to and use of digital technologies for mobilisation. In the last three years, six internet disruptions have been recorded, mostly ordered to thwart public protests against bad governance. The disruptions have had significant economic implications and only ended following the intervention of the courts. 

The brief explores the repressive elements of media and technology-related laws and how they have been used to undermine freedom of expression, access to information and press freedom in the aftermath of al-Bashir’s overthrow. Overall, while there have been some improvements since al-Bashir’s ouster, the current government continues to institute regressive measures such as news website blockages and censorship. The latest power machinations that saw the military stage a coup on October 25, 2021 are making matters worse. 

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), which spearheaded the uprising that overthrew al-Bashir, extensively used digital technologies to disseminate news about the uprising and to mobilise citizens to attend protests. The military rulers that succeeded Bashir seem to have realised the power of technology in mobilisation and embarked on continuous disruption of the internet, in addition to instituting other measures to curtail online organising, freedom of expression, and the free flow of information online.

Bashir’s dictatorship initiated internet disruptions in view of public protests calling for his overthrow, but the government that succeeded him has been more prolific in utilising shutdowns to try and shut off criticism and protests. 

The longest internet disruption in Sudan’s history was recorded in 2019 and lasted 37 days. During protests around the time the shutdown was initiated, more than 100 protesters were killed. The latest shutdown started on October 25, 2021 and lasted 25 days. It was instituted after Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan seized control of the government. The shutdown was ended by a court order on November 11.

In July 2021, Sudanese authorities blocked more than 30 local news websites in the run up to protests demanding the resignation of the government, a move that severely undermined the right to expression and access to information.

Meanwhile, the cybercrime law of 2020 punishes publishing “lies” and “fake news” online with a heavy penalty of four years imprisonment, or flogging, or both. This law has been used by the military to silence activists and critical state officials. Even Lt. Gen. Burhan has this year invoked it to bring a suit against a prominent critic. The Press and Publications Law of 2009 equally has repressive provisions and was last August controversially invoked to suspendAlitibaha and Alsayha newspapers.

In 2020, Sudan issued the National security law amendment of 2020, article 25 of which leaves latitude for staff of intelligence agencies to violate citizens’ privacy by giving the Sudanese General Intelligence Service “the right to request information, data, documents or things from anyone to check it or take it” without a court order. Last October, military forces that staged a coup appeared to use this provision to search people’s phones in the streets to delete documentation of human rights violations perpetuated by security forces.

See the policy brief for further details on Sudan’s Bad Laws, Internet Censorship and Repressed Civil Liberties.

Stalking the Messenger: Ending Impunity for Illegal Surveillance

Opinion |

We know that the issues around digital surveillance are complicated. The tech side of the tools used and the means to circumvent them are complicated. Drawing a hard line between what may be acceptable to help ensure our personal security and what pushes our societies into Orwellian territory is also complicated.

As the revelations of the Pegasus Project show us, illegal surveillance is the latest weapon in the ever-growing arsenal used against journalists and human rights defenders. In effect, surveillance in this context is equivalent to stalking. A pernicious activity that can easily cross from online harassment to physical attacks. It’s illegal. It disproportionately affects those who are among the most vulnerable, whether because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. And if people are permitted to stalk with impunity, the problem will not stop.

Increasingly used as a laser-focused tactic, a weapon to intimidate, instil fear, and paralyse the work of journalists, this kind of surveillance puts sources at risk and impedes journalists from providing us with information to expose crime and corruption, and to speak the truth about power.

“I don’t think it’s journalists as individuals that the government has a problem with. The government has a problem with the people […] It wants to continue committing crimes in the shadows so that no one will uncover those facts or ask questions about it. And journalists are the ones who spoil this plan.” — Azerbaijani journalist Sevinj Vaqifqizi.

On this International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, a day advocated for by IFEX, we need to bring surveillance to the fore as a tactic that is threatening journalists’ safety, and draw attention to how impunity creates the conditions under which it will continue to thrive.

IFEX members have long warned of the dangers of malware like Pegasus. A product of the Israeli NSO Group, it infects targets’ phones, exposes data, and even gains access to cameras and microphones. Despite the company’s claim that it vets clients based on their human rights records, it sold Pegasus to authoritarian regimes – as well as to countries like Mexico, where targets included media figures, a government scientist, and international human rights investigators – united by having publicly posed challenging questions to the government.

The personal impact of such surveillance can be devastating.

“When you are speaking, watching, or doing something with someone in your house or in a cafe or wherever you may be, they are there listening to you, watching everything that you do. Everything that you do in your bedroom, the shower, in your kitchen, in your office with your friends, or whoever.” — Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui: profiled here

“My family members are also victimized. The sources are victimized, people I’ve been working with, people who told me their private secrets are victimized.” — Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova: profiled here

Globally, at least 180 journalists were selected as Pegasus targets.

The decades our network has put into promoting journalists’ safety confirm that it cannot be fully achieved in a climate where individuals – or states – can intimidate, threaten, and harm them, and not be held accountable. Year-round, IFEX members work to bring perpetrators to justice, and to establish conditions that will make it harder for them to commit such crimes in the first place.

We know that it is a massive undertaking. In spite of being illegal under international human rights law, actors involved in illegal surveillance are almost never held accountable.

The challenge is to identify where to intervene, where to spend our energy, where we can have the biggest impact in stemming this predatory practice – including, but not limited to, confronting corporations and governments that enable and participate in the illegal surveillance of journalists.

It’s a many-headed beast, surveillance. There are multiple entry points to effect change, from policy work to set boundaries on what is considered ‘necessary and proportionate’ surveillance, to pressuring states to adopt international standards, to controls on the exports of spyware, to supporting preventive measures like strengthening and normalizing encryption.

Ending impunity for illegal surveillance has to be part of this work. It’s a long game, not for the weak-of-heart, and this is even more true when the perpetrators of the crimes are states. But we know from our experience seeking accountability for physical attacks on journalists that this type of sustained work does pay off. Just over a week ago, two decades of advocacy – by IFEX member FLIP, by Jineth Bedoya Lima herself, and by so many others – led to the groundbreaking Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling in her case that there was “serious, precise and consistent evidence of State involvement in the acts of physical, sexual and psychological torture against the journalist.” This ruling sets an important precedent for the entire region.

The other good news is that we have a lot to draw on, on our side. There is a massive, global network of people – working in different fields, perhaps, or focusing on different issues – but with the combined skills, expertise, and clout needed to ensure that illegal surveillance does not go unchallenged, that those found culpable pay a price, and that this price effectively deters others.

As long as we keep leveraging opportunities like IDEI to come together, collaborate, learn from and support each other, raise our voices and find strategic pressure points where we can have a real impact, we can, and will, counter the scourge of illegal surveillance of journalists.

Annie Game is the Executive Director of IFEX, the global network that promotes and defends freedom of expression and information as a fundamental human right.

Hanging in the Balance: Online and Offline Freedom of the Press in Guinea

By Simone Toussi |

Guinea’s media landscape boasts over 70 media outlets including streaming media, radio, television and print media. Yet still, the country does not score highly on international press freedom indices – it is ranked 107 out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Nonetheless, the country’s growing internet penetration from 0.4% in 2010 to 33% in 2018 is favourable for the free flow of information through online spaces such as blogs and social networks.

Given the rapid growth of Internet users – from 42,000 users in 2010 to four million users in 2019  – the internet is fast becoming a  primary mode of accessing information for many people in the country. However, the government’s high-handed controls over traditional media are extending into the online sphere, evidenced by a series of arbitrary arrests and detentions, coupled with the persecution and judicial harassment of journalists and bloggers.

 A continuing persecution of journalists and the press outlets

In August 2019, the Guinean government placed two journalists, Lynx FM talk show host Souleymane Diallo and Lynx FM CEO and journalist Boubacar Alghassimou Diallo, under judicial control. The two were accused of “complicity in disseminating data likely to disturb public safety”. The allegations stem from an interactive radio show, during which an auditor accused a Guinean official of embezzling military bonuses related to a mission in Northern Mali. Under judicial control, the two journalists are prohibited from travelling outside of Guinea’s capital Conakry without authorisation from a judge. They are also not allowed to host the radio show in question until further notice, and are required to  appear in court three times per week. In the same month,, several press associations demonstrated against the state- led suffocation of the media.

Earlier in March 2019, Lansana Camara, a journalist with conackrylive.info, was summoned for “defamation by the press” after a complaint by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and elements in the Guinean diaspora. Camara was placed in custody for a week on allegations of publishing an article undermining the Guinean government. The article (deleted following his arrest) reported an alleged diversion of two billion Guinean Francs (GNF), equivalent to USD 215,700, that had been budgeted for fuel for the Guinean Department of Foreign Affairs.

Martine Condé, the President of the High Authority of Communication (HAC) –  the national independent media observer and regulator constituted under  Law N° L/2010/002/CNT/ of June 22, 2010 – denounced Camara’s incarceration as a flagrant violation of the law on freedom of the press. A similar press freedom reprimand was issued by the Guinean Association of Online Press (AGUIPEL) back in June 2018 after the arrest and detention of Mamadou Saliou Diallo, founder of Nouveleteeguinee.com, on accusations of “defamation and slander” following a complaint by Cheick Sako, the Minister of Justice.

But the HAC does not always appear to act in the interests of media freedom. In 2017, the HAC took a decision to suspend a private radio station, Espace FM, for seven days, accusing it of disseminating “information likely to undermine the security of the nation, the morale of the armed forces and public order”. HAC’s decision was pursuant to articles 39 and 40 of Law N° L/2010/002/CNT/ of June 22, 2010 on freedom of the press which states: “The High Authority of Communication exercises a right of general control over public, private and community media […]. When the provisions of the law on communication are not respected, [it] can take the following measures: warning, notice of default, suspension, permanent withdrawal.” The same year, a dozen journalists were assaulted by law enforcement officers, with reports of destruction of equipment and torture.

Previously in 2016, the Guinean press was shaken by the assassination of El Hadj Mohamed Diallo, a journalist for the news website Guinee7.com, during a political rally of Guinea’s main opposition party, the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG). To-date, the case remains unsolved, despite  investigations.

 An inadequate and flouted legislative framework

The Guinean Constitution guarantees  the right to freedom of expression, opinion, belief and thought, as well as freedom of the press as being inviolable, inalienable and imprescriptible. It also guarantees the right of access to public information. According to Article 7, everyone is free “to express, to manifest, to disseminate their ideas and opinions by speech, writing and image, […] to educate and inform themselves from sources that are accessible to all. Freedom of the press is guaranteed and protected. The creation of a press or media outlet for political, economic, social, cultural, sporting, recreational or scientific information is free. The right of access to public information is guaranteed to the citizen.”

However, there are a number of laws and policies that undermine the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution.

The Organic Law N ° 002/22/06/2010 on the Freedom of the Press enacted in 2010, sets the conditions for press freedom and the creation of a free and independent media in Guinea. Article 1 explicitly guarantees the freedom of “the written press, the online press, publishing, printing, bookstore, audiovisual, photography, cinema and all other forms of communication”. Offenses by the press or by any other means of communication are outlined under Articles 98-122. The only penalties provided for under the law, upon conviction, are the payment of a fine (the maximum being 20 million GNF, equivalent to USD 2,200), and the suspension or withdrawal of a media outlets’ license, with possibility of appeal before the Supreme Court.

There are no provisions for possible imprisonment of journalists. For instance, the law states that, “defamation, by one of the means set out in Article 98, against the courts, the military and paramilitary bodies, the constituted bodies and the public administrations, is punishable by a fine between 1,000,000 GNF and 5,000,000 GNF (USD 108-540).”

However, the press law and Penal Code (1998) conflict with each other on some  press offences. Article 99 of the press law states that incitement to theft, murder, looting and offenses against the security of the state, with incitement followed by effect, is an offence and “perpetrators are punished as accomplices” in accordance with Articles 271 and 273 of the Penal Code.  Article 271 of the Penal Code provides for prison sentences of between 10-20 years while Article 273 provides for penalties of imprisonment of 16 days to six months, a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 GNF ( (USD 5.5 to USD 10.9) or both. Notably, neither the press law nor the Penal Code are cited during the prosecution of journalists and bloggers. Instead, authorities rely on the cyber security law.

Law No. 037 on cyber security and the protection of personal data was adopted in July 2016, “to define the rules and mechanisms to fight against cybercrime in Guinea and thus create a favourable, conducive and secure environment in cyber space”. However, it is criticised as a threat to democracy and the digital rights of Guinean citizens because it legitimises online censorship and appears to criminalise whistle-blowing. Indeed, it is this law, and not the press law, which is currently being used to persecute journalists. According to Mohamed Traoré, former president of the Guinean Bar Association, the cyber security law is “unenforceable” because it has not been registered and published in the Official Gazette.

Meanwhile, the Bill on Access to Public Information was approved at the Council of Ministers on July 26, 2019, but there has been no further action on it since then. The lack of an access to information framework negatively impacts journalism, and transparency and accountability in governance. Passing the bill into law would facilitate reliable sources of information for investigative reporting, as well as research, and enhance civic participation.

 Which way for a free press in Guinea?

Guinea’s press law reflects the political will to ensure a free, independent and pluralistic media in the country. Further, growing internet penetration has facilitated media diversity. However, persisting acts of repression and intimidation of journalists and bloggers are in total disregard of the Freedom of the Press Act which decriminalises press crimes, and online critics remain exposed to harsh penalties emanating from the cyber security law. In addition, the current inadequacy of the supporting legal framework, and stagnation of the bill on public access to information, limit media’s contribution to democratic governance. For a conducive freedom of expression environment to thrive in Guinea, it is imperative for the government to adopt an adequate legal framework and ensure its enforcement at all levels.

Ethiopia’s Digital Rights Record on the Spot at May 2019 Universal Peer Review

By Ashnah Kalemera |
Despite the promises and efforts made by Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed Ali, to transform the country after years of political repression and state control of major forms of media, the country is yet to experience substantive change in the state of digital rights.
Restrictions to freedom of expression, privacy, and access to information remain in force including through legislation such as the 2008 Mass Media and Freedom of Information law, the 2009 Anti-Terrorism law, the Computer Crime law of 2016 and the Telecom Fraud Offences law (2012). While the establishment of the Advisory Law Reforms Committee, with a mandate to review existing laws to bring them in line with human rights standards, is a welcome development, pledges to reform problematic legislation are yet to be delivered.
Meanwhile, since November 2015, the Ethiopian government has consistently blocked and initiated national or regional shutdowns during public protest and exams, on grounds of national security. Whereas access to affected regions was restored during reforms in early 2018, there were reports of a shutdown in the eastern part of country in August 2018.   
At its upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the Human Rights Council scheduled for May 14, 2019, Ethiopia should be tasked to implement reforms that fundamentally promote and protect citizens’ rights both online and offline.

What is the UPR? It’s a full assessment of a country’s human rights. Every United Nations (UN) member state has its human rights record assessed, and all UN member states are involved in the review process. It happens every four-and-a-half years, for every state.

Such reforms should include the amendment of the 2008 Mass Media and Freedom of Information law, the 2009 Anti-Terrorism law, the Computer Crime law of 2016 and the 2012 Telecom Fraud Offences law to bring them in line with international human rights instruments on freedom of expression. Further, changes should be implemented to curb state surveillance of citizens, including by introducing independent judicial oversight over interception of communications.
In this UPR advocacy brief, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and Small Media analyse the state of freedom of expression, freedom of information, the right to equal access and opportunity, as well as data protection and privacy developments in Ethiopia since the previous UPR review in April 2014. We make recommendations for consideration by UN member states at the upcoming review of Ethiopia.
See the full brief.