Following a new disruption of internet mobile data in Senegal, ARTICLE 19 Senegal and West Africa denounces the alarming measure which undermines free expression and other rights.
‘The continued suspension of mobile data internet and TikTok is a disproportionate and alarming measure that undermines the right to access the internet and public information. Such restrictions must be clearly defined, legally justified, time-limited, and not excessively impede the rights of all users,’ stated Alfred Nkuru Bulakali, Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 Senegal and West Africa.
ARTICLE 19 expresses deep concern over the continued restrictions imposed on the internet and the social media platform TikTok during the period of political unrest. It follows the imprisonment of Ousmane Sonko, the leading opposition figure and president of the political party Patriotes africains du Sénégal pour le travail, l’éthique et la fraternité (PASTEF) . On July 31st, his political party was dissolved by a presidential decree.
ARTICLE 19 urgently calls upon the authorities to restore mobile data and TikTok access and actively seek alternative measures to address legitimate concerns related to the misuse of the internet and social networks. It is essential to strike a balance between ensuring public safety and safeguarding the fundamental human right to freedom of expression and access to information.
‘It is incumbent upon the state to demonstrate that it has explored alternative, less restrictive means of preventing the dissemination of clearly identified violent speech. Safeguarding freedom of expression is indispensable for a democratic society, and any limitations on the right must be judiciously evaluated and justified within the framework of international human rights standards. Instead of imposing blanket restrictions on the entire internet or social media platforms, authorities can adopt a targeted approach, addressing specific instances of harmful or violent content while upholding free speech,’ added Alfred Nkuru Bulakali.
The preservation of social harmony and civil liberties is crucial in maintaining stability. Condemning all forms of violence and attempts towards reduction of civic space online and offline, ARTICLE 19 urgently appeals to the authorities to engage in consultations with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society, technology companies and regulators to seek solutions that uphold freedom of expression and foster a peaceful resolution to the political unrest.
Preserving open communication channels is vital in promoting understanding, democracy, and ultimately achieving lasting peace and stability for the nation.
On 28 July 2023, Ousmane Sonko, senegalese opposition figure and presidential candidate for the 2024 election was arrested and placed in custody. On 31 July 2023, he was charged and subsequently detained by a court order accused of ‘calls for insurrection and plotting’ against the state. Earlier this year, on 1 June, Sonko was sentenced to two years imprisonment in a related case, and on 8 May, he received a six-month suspended prison sentence following a defamation appeal.
Also on 31 July, the Interior Minister, Antoine Diome, announced the dissolution of the PASTEF political party by decree, citing frequent calls for insurrectionary actions, which the government believes contributed to multiple deaths in March 2021 and June 2023.
Sonko’s detention and dissolution of PASTEF triggered widespread protests in various regions of Senegal, resulting in two deaths, according to official reports from the Ministry of Interior.
On 31 July, the Minister of Information and Communication issued a statement justifying the indefinite suspension of mobile data internet, citing the spread of hate speech and subversive messages on social media platforms during this period of threats to public order.
Then, on 2 August, in a subsequent statement, the Minister announced the indefinite suspension of TikTok, a popular social media platform extensively used by the youth to share information about the ongoing tensions in Senegal, for the same reasons previously given to suspend mobile data internet. Currently, internet access is only possible through the use of VPNs.
As tension and sporadic demonstrations continue in some areas, violence is escalating. According to a press release from the Minister of Interior, on 1 August a public transport bus was attacked with a Molotov cocktail, causing at least two deaths. The public prosecutor has opened an investigation.
In June 2023 and March 2021, the State of Senegal resorted to internet blackouts during public disturbances.
For more information, please contact:
Maateuw Mbaye, Program Assistant, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa Email: firstname.lastname@example.org T: +221785958337
Aissata Diallo Dieng, Office Manager, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa Email: email@example.com T:+221338690322