CIPESA, Rudi, Support Formation of Digital Rights Lawyers’ Coalition in DR Congo

By Ashnah Kalemera |

A coalition of public interest lawyers has been formed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) with an aim to promote digital rights in the central African country. Comprising advocates from six cities- Bukavu, Goma, Kinshasa, Kisangani, Lubumbashi and Matadi – the coalition will provide support to members to grow their skills in digital rights litigation, and promote collaborative advocacy and research with other digital rights actors in the country.

The inaugural membership received two-days skills and knowledge building on the sidelines of the 2021 Haki Conference, which was organised by Rudi International. Hosted in partnership with the North Kivu Bar Association, the training benefitted 19 lawyers and explored DR Congo’s technology policy and legislative environment with a focus on consumer protection, data protection and privacy, and cybercrime as well as national trends in government internet controls

The role of strategic litigation in digital rights protection was also explored, drawing from the experience of an ongoing case against the 2018 internet shutdown. At the time the case was filed, blockages to communications were a persistent occurrence in the expansive country amidst growing concerns around access and affordability, surveillance, censorship and disinformation. Participants also benefited from a foundation course in digital safety and security. 

As part of the Haki Conference, members of the coalition deliberated on the need for a legal and regulatory framework responsive to the evolution of digital technologies in DR Congo and the role of the legal fraternity in the wider push for digital rights in Africa’s fourth most populous country. 

According to Rudi International’s Executive Director, Arsene Tungali, the formation of the lawyers’ coalition “adds more voices to the digital rights cause and has helped to enlarge Rudi’s network of supporters and allies.” He added: “Rudi is proud to have championed this initiative and to have been able to bring together a group of talented Congolese lawyers, equipped them with the basics and given them the opportunity to network among themselves.” 

The formation of the coalition and initial capacity building efforts were supported by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) through the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF). The initiative in Congo builds on CIPESA’s efforts to foster digital rights in Africa without leaving out key actors, such as legislators, the judiciary, bureaucrats, and private lawyers, who are crucial to the success of efforts like litigation, legal reforms, and enforcing respect for laws and rights. 

To this end, CIPESA has previously supported the 2019 Annual Jurists Conference of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) Kenya chapter, where we conducted a digital rights strategic litigation training for judicial officers. This training followed a similar one on advancing collaboration in strategic litigation for digital rights which drew on learning from our case studies on strategic litigation suits in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Similarly, at the 2020 Africa Law Tech Festival, we held sessions on strategic litigation and the digital economy that explored business models in the digital economy and rights-respecting policy approaches to advancing innovation, sustainable development and state revenue collection in the digital era.

MLDI to Host a Strategic Digital Rights Litigation Workshop at FIFAfrica18

Announcement |

Litigation has been recognised as a potentially effective tool in removing restrictions on the free flow of information online in countries with repressive internet regimes. Increasingly, some initiatives are seeking to encourage collaboration among different actors in strategic litigation for a free and open internet.

Indeed, various cases in litigation for the respect and realisation of digital rights have recently been recorded in Cameroon, Kenya, Burundi and Gambia, among other countries in Africa.

Yet still, litigation remains under-utilised because of a lack of effective collaboration between different actors: lawyers, activists, academics, technical experts and other members of civil society.

Accordingly, the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) 2018 will serve as an opportunity for the Media Legal Defense Initiative (MLDI) to build the capacity of internet activists to collaborate across disciplinary silos to more effectively push back against regressive legal frameworks that are not conducive to access and use of the internet in Africa.

Sessions at the workshop will explore the meaning of strategic litigation and examine relevant comparative and international legal standards drawing on judgments from regional courts. Together with participants, MLDI will analyse the legal issues that can arise in the context of digital rights and freedom of expression through three case studies. Through interactive group sessions, participants will examine how the comparative and international standards can be applied in practical terms.

The workshop, scheduled to take place on September 26, 2018, is aimed at enhancing the strategies for future digital rights and online freedom of expression litigation and advocacy in Africa. It builds on the foundations set in knowledge and skills for collaboration in research for internet policy advocacy as well as regional efforts targeting the legal fraternity in East and West Africa.

The 2018 workshop is the second digital rights litigation training to be held on the sidelines of FIFAfrica. The first workshop was hosted at the 2017 edition of FIFAfrica in Johannesburg, South Africa by the Berkman Klein Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and MLDI.

2018 Edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) Set To Take Place In Ghana

Announcement |
The Collaboration for International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) is pleased to announce the fifth edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica). This year, the Forum will be hosted in partnership with the Media Foundation West Africa (MFWA) and will take place on September 26–28, 2018 in Accra, Ghana.
The Forum is a landmark event that convenes various stakeholders from the internet governance and online rights arenas in Africa and beyond to deliberate on gaps, concerns and opportunities for advancing privacy, access to information, free expression, non-discrimination and the free flow of information online on the continent.
Since inception, FIFAfrica has also served as a platform to mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). Engagements at the Forum aim to reflect current trends and concerns in access and usage of the internet and related technologies on the continent. As such, each year has seen us launch themed research on the State of Internet Freedom in Africa. Last year, we also launched a key report on Calculating the Economic Cost of Internet Disruptions in Sub-Saharan Africa.
While the 2014, 2015 and 2016 editions of FIFAfrica were hosted in Uganda, in 2017, the Forum was hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa in partnership with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), an international network and non-profit organisation that works towards a free and open internet.
Indeed, spreading the physical footprint of FIFAfrica across different regions of the continent ensures that the Forum lives up to its goal of unpacking internet freedom challenges and opportunities in sub-regions of Africa and developing responses that are collaborative, and informed by insights from the experience of other sub-regions of the continent. Hosting the Forum in in west Africa for the first time will not only open up the space to more west African civil society, private sector and public sector actors to contribute their experiences to the regional discussion, but will  also give life to the Forum’s commitment of ensuring broader regional representation and deepening conversations across the continent.
At a practical level, skills development among participants is prioritized. Previous Forums have seen our partners AccessNow and DefendDefenders host digital security clinics. In 2017, The Localisation Lab hosted a localization sprint aimed at advancing the adoption of internet freedom tools in East and Southern Africa through translation of technologies and creation of key resources to support the education, training, and adaptation of digital security and circumvention tools in the region. This included the translation of tools into languages like Shona, Luganda, and Ndebele.
Other skills development events at the Forum have in the past included a workshop on Strategic Digital Rights Litigation hosted in partnership with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) and a workshop on human rights review mechanisms, which took participants through African and United Nations (UN) Universal Periodic Reviews processes which was hosted by APC, CIPESA and Small Media.
With strategic linkages to other internet freedom forums and support for the development of substantive inputs to inform the conversations on human rights online happening at national level, at the African Union and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the African Internet Governance Forum (IGF), subregional IGFs, the global IGF, Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF), the Internet Freedom Festival (IFF), the Internet Freedom Forum (Nigeria) and RightsCon, among others, FIFAfrica provides a pan-African space where discussion from these other events can be consolidated at continent-wide level, drawing a large multi-stakeholder audience of actors.

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Litigating Against Internet Shutdowns in Cameroon

By Juliet Nanfuka |
The pushback against internet shutdowns in Cameroon has recently taken a new turn with advocacy organisations filing formal submissions before the Supreme Court of Cameroon. In their January 2018 submission, AccessNow and Internet Sans Frontières (ISF) highlight Cameroon’s commitment to international and regional human rights law and urge judges to recognise that disrupting or blocking the internet is incompatible with the right to free expression and access to information.
Authorities in Cameroon first initiated an internet shutdown in the English-speaking regions on January 17, 2017, which lasted 93 days. The shutdown was imposed in the wake of ongoing strikes, fatal violence and protest action against the continued “francophonisation” and marginalisation of English speakers who claim the central government “privileges the majority French-speaking population and eight other regions.” Cameroon’s constitution recognises the two languages as equal and calls for bilingualism. A second shutdown was effected on October 1, 2017 and some 150 days later, there was still no sign that the shutdown is about to be lifted in the affected Anglophone regions of Southwest and Northwest Cameroon.
The case in which AccessNow and ISF intervened is one of two ongoing cases challenging the January 2017 shutdown. Initiated in April 2017 by Cameroon’s Veritas Law Offices, in collaboration with the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), the cases are against the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, Cameroon Telecommunications (CamTel) – a private company which dominates the telecoms sector in the country – and the Government of Cameroon.
Litigation has been recognised as a potentially effective tool in removing restrictions on the free flow of information online in countries with repressive internet regimes. Increasingly,  various initiatives are seeking to encourage collaboration across different internet governance actors in strategic litigation for a free and open internet.
AccessNow and ISF’s filing seeks remedy for the shutdown, calling it a violation of citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of expression and access to information and freedom from discrimination. Indeed, in the submission, the organisations point out that international and regional courts as well as human rights institutions have condemned shutdowns as contrary to the law, unnecessary, and a disproportionate means of achieving their aim.
The filing also to refers to Article 19(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 9 and 27(2) of the African Charter, which state that a limitation or restriction on the right to freedom of expression will only be justifiable where it is (i) provided by law, (ii) serves a legitimate interest, and (iii) is necessary in a democratic society. These articles further state that where a state’s restriction or limitation fails to meet any one of the aforementioned criteria, it will amount to a violation of the right to freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, in November 2016, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted a Resolution in which it expressed its concern over “the emerging practice of State Parties of interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the Internet, social media and messaging services, increasingly during elections”. It urged state parties “to respect and take legislative and other measures to guarantee, respect and protect citizens’ right to freedom of information and expression through access to Internet services.”
Various countries in Africa, Europe and Asia have experienced various forms of internet disruptions in recent years, some repeatedly like DR Congo, Ethiopia, India, Turkey, and Uganda, often with little legal recourse available to citizens. In the few instances where redress has been sought through courts of law, the proceedings have been slow such as the case of Uganda which called for the 2016 social media and mobile money shutdowns to be classed as illegal in a bid to deter a repeat of similar actions. Indeed, litigation is offering a new frontline in digital rights, such as in the case of the Gambia following the February ruling by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Regional Court of Justice that media laws on sedition, false news and criminal defamation violate the right to freedom of expression. This mirrored the 2015 ruling by the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) which ruled that sections of Burundi’s Press Law of 2013 violated press freedom and democratic principles called for them to be repealed.
Nonetheless, the push for digital rights has taken on different forms and strategies, including the popular #KeepItOn campaign which is creating greater awareness and pushback against internet shutdowns. In Africa, for as long internet disruptions continue to recur, more strategic responses to them need to be developed particularly as sinister measures such as ambiguous regulations are increasingly taken to control the flow of information and freedom of expression online.
Update: Internet Access in the affected regions of Cameroon was restored in early March 2018.