Togo: ECOWAS Court rules 2017 internet shutdowns were illegal & violated right to freedom of expression

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Article
25 June 2020

ECOWAS Court upholds digital rights, rules 2017 internet shutdowns in Togo illegal

Author: Felicia Anthonio, Natalia Krapiva, Berhan Taye, Peter Micek & Laura O'Brien, Access Now

[T]he Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice ruled that the September 2017 internet shutdown ordered by the Togolese government during protests is illegal and an affront to the applicants’ right to freedom of expression. The court ordered the government of Togo to pay two million CAF to the plaintiffs as compensation, and to take all the necessary measures to guarantee the implementation of safeguards with respect to the right to freedom of expression of the Togolese people.

... In 2019, Access Now led a coalition of eight organizations, namely the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), ARTICLE 19, Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), the NetBlocks Group, and The Paradigm Initiative (PI), who submitted a “friends of the court,” or amici curiae, brief in the lawsuit filed by Amnesty International Togo and other applicants.

... The #KeepItOn coalition and Access Now welcome this landmark ruling denouncing internet shutdowns and upholding digital rights — a second of its kind within the last month. On June 3,  the Jakarta State Administrative Court passed a similar judgement that the deliberate 2019 internet shutdowns in Papua and West Papua violated the country’s law.

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Article
25 June 2020

Paradigm Initiative applauds historic ECOWAS Court decision on internet shutdown in Togo

Author: National Accord

Paradigm Initiative, a pan-African social enterprise that advocates for digital rights and inclusion in Africa... joined other civil society organizations to celebrate a landmark trial by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice. The regional court has ruled that the restriction on Internet access, which took place from September 5 to 10 and again from September 19 to 21, 2017, was illegal and an affront to the applicants’ right to freedom of expression.

... “It is a historic judgement that will send a strong signal to the entire continent, and to ruthless regimes in particular, to rethink the assumed benefits of illegal and abusive network disruptions,” said Emmanuel Vitus, Paradigm Initiative... "[T]he court’s decision has far deeper implications for the future of online freedom in Togo. It’s a huge moment in the country’s recent history and very significant, not just for the plaintiffs, but also for the citizens of Togo.”... In the last few years, Togo has used Internet shutdowns and curfews to stifle dissent and enforce law and order. One of the big concerns is the use of social media tools to organize anti-government protests. The excessive use of force by the security forces and violence has resulted in the deaths of at least 11 people, including children. Over 200 protesters have been arrested during the 2017 protests.

... Togo does not have appropriate legislation governing Internet use and freedom, leaving the government and judiciary to apply the existing penal code to online activities individuals have been jailed for up to five years for posting information about government or opposition policy on social media.

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