The Kingdom of Eswatini on October 15, 2021, partially shut down the internet for at least four hours, as pro-democracy protests once again raged in that country. This is the latest in a series of internet shutdowns in Eswatini, with the previous blockade being in July this year when the government was once again faced with raging protests.
The Swaziland News website reported that Princess Sikhanyiso, the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Minister, had ordered all mobile operators in the country to shut down the internet as pro-democracy protests raged.
“It has come to government’s attention that social media is being used irresponsibly to spread misinformation contributing to the violent attacks and events around the country. As the government, we have an obligation to restore peace and order to bring a stop to the violence currently taking place,” a letter purportedly written by the minister to the Eswatini Communication Commission reads. The minister ordered all licensed operators to suspend access to social networking site, Facebook, until further notice.
The Eswatini Communication Commission then wrote to mobile network operators and other networks ordering them to cut access to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat and other social media networks and instant messaging platforms from between 9 am and 1 pm on October 15.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the protests, MISA and other organisations have previously written to the Eswatini government, warning about the perils of shutting down the internet.
MISA warned that by blocking access to the internet, the Eswatini government is violating the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Eswatini, including, but not limited to the right to free speech and opinion, access to information and the right to assembly.
Further, internet shutdowns disrupt emergency services, cripple economies and restrict the flow of business-related information and communications, including internet-based banking services and transactions.
MISA condemns the shutdown of the internet in Eswatini. MISA reiterates its call on the need to respect regional and international legal standards and State responsibilities highlighted in instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Governments should also take note and comply with the 2020 Joint Declaration by Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Elections in the Digital Age.
The Declaration calls on all states to promote effective access to the Internet and other digital technologies by closing digital gaps based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability, socioeconomic status, among others.
Access to the internet and social media platforms is very critical, as it facilitates transparency and fosters active citizen participation and decision making. Internet access equates to access to information and to the realisation of the right to freedom of expression.
Source: MISA Zimbabwe