Your Excellency, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe,
Hon. Monica Mutsvangwa, Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services; Hon. Jenfan Muswere, Minister of ICTs, Postal and Courier Services; Hon. Mrs. Justice Priscilla Makanyara Chigumba, Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC); Cde Tandabantu Godwin Matanga, Commissioner General of Police; Hon. Justice Luke Malaba, the Chief Justice of Zimbabwe; Hon. Jacob Francis Nzwidamilimo Mudenda, Speaker of Parliament; Hon. Mabel Memory Chinomona, President of Senate; Professor Ruby Magosvongwe, Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Media Commission; Dr Gift Machengete, Director General of the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ); Mr. Wellington Makamure, Chief Executive Officer (Southern Africa Region) of Liquid Intelligent Technologies; Dr. Douglas Zimbango, Board Chairman of Telone; Ms. Susan Mutangadura, Board Chairperson of Netone; Douglas Mboweni, Group Chief Executive Officer at Econet Wireless Zimbabwe; and, Angeline Vere, Chief Executive Officer, Telecel.
Nations across Africa, and the world, must ensure people can access open, secure and free internet when they need it the most — during important national events. This election, we urge the government of Zimbabwe to #KeepItOn.
We, the undersigned organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition — a global network of over 300 organizations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns — write to urgently
appeal to you, President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, to publicly commit to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe have unfettered access to the internet, social media platforms, and all other communication channels throughout the general election scheduled for Wednesday, August 23, 2023. As the people of Zimbabwe prepare to vote in the upcoming elections, it is essential that your government adopts and prioritizes measures that advance digital rights to ensure that the election process is inclusive, free, and fair by providing everyone with unfettered access to information and avenues for free expression, assembly, and association — both offline and online.
1 An internet shutdown is defined as an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information. See more at: https://accessnow.org/keepiton.
The internet and social media platforms play a critical role in enhancing participatory governance, advancing inclusiveness and transparency as well as enabling the enjoyment of fundamental human rights in a democratic society as enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 20) Act, 2013 (Act No. 1 of 2013). These platforms provide spaces for communicating, public discourse, access to information about election processes and candidates and holding governments accountable for their actions. Access to the internet and digital platforms also facilitate reporting and coverage of the elections by journalists, human rights defenders and election observers.
History of shutdowns in Zimbabwe
In 2019, the #KeepItOn coalition documented a three day internet shutdown in Zimbabwe which was imposed following public protests that were triggered by an acute increase in the price of fuel. In 2022, Zimbabwean authorities intermittently disrupted internet service in an attempt to interfere with the “Yellow Sunday” rally held by the opposition party Citizens’ Coalition for Change. As supporters gathered for the rally, people began to report difficulty accessing social media platforms. Worryingly, remarks made by the Minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Senator Monica Mutsvangwa, last year, highlighted the government’s view that connectivity and free access should be balanced with the right of the population to safety and peace. As the people of Zimbabwe go to the polls on August 23, we urge the government to refrain from imposing any form of internet shutdowns or censorship in the country. Internet shutdowns interfere with electoral processes, deny people access to critical information, and limit the enjoyment of human rights.
Internet shutdowns harm human rights, exacerbate crises, and stop the free flow of information
Research shows that internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand. Shutting down the internet during times of conflict, protests, and wide reaching public health events such as a deadly pandemic adds fuel to the fire, and cuts off access to vital, timely, and life-saving information, and to emergency services. By disrupting the flow of information, shutdowns exacerbate existing tensions, potentially instigate or conceal violence and human rights violations perpetrated by both state and non-state actors, and spur the spread of misinformation.
Shutdowns also make it extremely difficult for journalists and the media to carry out their work thereby denying people both inside and outside of the country access to credible information. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) , human rights defenders, election observers, political parties, election candidates, civil society actors, and other election stakeholders count on the internet to monitor and report on elections, facilitating transparency and openness in the process.
Additionally, imposing internet shutdowns interferes with people’s livelihoods and has a negative effect on entire economies. It has been documented that shutdowns cost nations billions of dollars as businesses, companies, public and private institutions which rely on the digital economy stand to lose huge sums of money whenever they occur.
Internet shutdowns contravene international laws
Zimbabwe is signatory to regional and international frameworks such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which provide for the protection and promotion of the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, assembly, and access to information — both offline and online. In addition, Zimbabwe is a state party to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance which calls for promotion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights during elections. Furthermore, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa 2019 calls upon States not to “engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet and other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population.”
The 2016 African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Resolution recognizes the “importance of the internet in advancing human and people’s rights in Africa,” and expressed concern over the “emerging practice of State Parties interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the internet, social media, and messaging services.” Moreover, the UN Secretary General and experts affirm that, “blanket Internet shutdowns and generic blocking and filtering of services are considered by United Nations human rights mechanisms to be in violation of international human rights law.”
Telecom companies must respect human rights
Likewise, telecommunications companies and businesses have a responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to respect human rights, prevent or mitigate potential harms, and provide remedy for harms they cause or contribute to.
Telecommunications and internet service providers operating in Zimbabwe — including Liquid Intelligent Technologies, Econet, Telone, Telecel, and Netone — have a responsibility to provide quality, open, and secure access to the internet and digital communication tools.
Internet shutdowns — whether in Zimbabwe or other countries — have proven to be dangerous for human rights and must never be allowed to become the norm. We encourage businesses and enterprises in Zimbabwe to integrate these principles and practices for responding to censorship and network disruption requests in all markets where they operate.
As organizations that believe the internet and digital platforms are enablers of human rights, we call on you to:
- Publicly assure the people of the Republic of Zimbabwe that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, will remain open, accessible, inclusive and secure across the country before, during and after the election;
- Refrain from ordering the interruption of telecommunications services, social media platforms, and other digital communication platforms before, during or after the elections;
- Ensure that telecommunications and internet service providers implement all necessary measures to provide high-quality, secure, unrestricted and uninterrupted internet access throughout the election period and thereafter in line with their quality of service and license conditions; and,
- Ensure that telecommunication and internet service providers inform internet users of any potential disruptions, and to take all reasonable steps to fix any identified disruptions likely to impact the quality of service they receive.
Kindly let us know how the #KeepItOn coalition can support you in upholding a free, open, secure, inclusive, and accessible internet for all in Zimbabwe.
Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Africa Media and Information Technology Initiative (AFRIMITI)
Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation
Alliance for Vietnam’s Democracy Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication(BNNRC)
Bloggers of Kenya Association (BAKE)
Bloggers of Zambia (BloggersZM)
Change Tanzania Movement
Censored Planet Observatory
Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD Ethiopia)
Centre for Community Empowerment and Development
Center for Media Studies and peacebuilding (CEMESP-Liberia)
Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Common Cause Zambia
Digital Rights Foundation
Eurasian Digital Foundation (Kazakhstan)
Gambia Press Union (GPU)
Global Digital Inclusion Partnership (GDIP)
International Press Centre (IPC)
International Press Institute
Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet)
Life campaign to abolish the death sentence in Kurdistan
Magamba Network (Zimbabwe)
Media Alliance of Zimbabwe
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
For more information, please contact:
Office of civil freedoms
OONI (Open Observatory of Network Interference)
Organization of the Justice Campaign
Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights SMEX
The Nubian Rights Forum
The Tor Project
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
Felicia Anthonio | #KeepItOn Campaign Manager | email@example.com