This is the view of Professor Can Yeğinsu, a member of the High-Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom and the lead barrister on the case representing Access Now, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and ARTICLE 19, and reported in the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute’s (IBAHRI) Freedom of Expression Bulletin this week.
Professor Yeğinsu was commenting on the landmark judgment last month where the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that the internet shutdown was “unlawful, and contrary to international law”.
“The Internet is now one of the principal means by which individuals exercise their right to the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas: it is a key gateway to the public’s access to news,” the professor said.
The West African nation shut down access to the internet to hamper protests against President Faure Gnassingbé. In 2005 the president replaced his father, Gnassingbé Eyadema, who had been in power for 38 years.
At the time demonstrators, who wanted an end to the “Gnassingbé dynasty”, reported access to the internet had slowed or been stopped.
Professor Yeğinsu said this was not an isolated case for Africa.
“Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Chad, Benin, and Zimbabwe have all seen the Internet shut down in recent years. As have other countries all over the world: these sorts of restrictions are now very much a global concern.”
He said that this was another “landmark judgment” from the ECOWAS Court in the area of freedom of expression. In another judgment in February 2018 it ordered the Gambia to repeal its criminal libel laws.
“The Togo judgment came, of course, only two days after the European Court of Human Rights held Russia’s law on website blocking to have an excessive and arbitrary impact on the right to freedom of expression. These are important and timely judgments from international courts: they give effect to an international minimum standard of protection for freedom of expression at a time when national authorities are moving to curb essential freedoms,” the professor added.
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