UN urges DRC to restore internet services as a ‘matter of urgency’

DRC President Joseph Kabila at the SADC Summit. Image: Twitter/@NewEraNewspaper

DRC President Joseph Kabila at the SADC Summit. Image: Twitter/@NewEraNewspaper

Authorities cut internet and text services to preserve public order after ‘fictitious results’ began circulating on social media.

UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye has urged the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to restore internet services as a “matter of urgency”, warning that the continued blocking of all primary telecommunications is a clear violation of international law.

More than a week after voters went to the polls to choose a new president in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), results have yet to be announced and all primary telecommunications remain shut down, the UN News reported.

“Access to information is crucial for the credibility of the ongoing electoral process,” Kaye said, adding that “shutdowns are damaging not only for people’s access to information, but also for their access to basic services”.

A senior government official said the authorities cut internet and text services to preserve public order after “fictitious results” began circulating on social media, saying that they would be restored after the preliminary results that were due to be announced on January 6 but have since been postponed.

DRC electoral commission authorities claim the snail-pace vote counting is due to the requirement that only manually counted ballots can be used.

However, this explanation has failed to impress leading opposition candidate and businessman Martin Fayulu who said the delaying tactic was deliberate and an attempt to impede his campaign.

Other critics assert that it could also be a ploy for incumbent President Joseph Kabila to remain in power.

Kaye said reports indicated the shutdown was hindering both electoral observers and witnesses in sharing information from rural polling stations with local centres that are compiling results.

It is also hampering the ability of the UN Stabilisation Mission in the DRC, or Monusco, to communicate with its partners in the field, including those offering protection to vulnerable civilians.

In 2016, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution unequivocally condemning, as a violation of international human rights, measures that intentionally prevent or disrupt access to the internet and the dissemination of online information.

Previously, in 2015 the Joint Declaration of UN and regional experts on freedom of expression stated that network shutdowns or internet “kill switches” were measures that could “never be justified under human rights law”.

The UN expert said he would continue to monitor developments in the DRC closely and was standing by to assist authorities, as requested.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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