As the world celebrates the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) on 28 September, the IFJ has condemned the fact that more than 30 countries have been guilty of closing media or blocking internet access so far in 2019, threatening citizens’ fundamental right to free access to information.
Established in 2015 by the UNESCO, the IDUI – commonly known as Access to Information Day – highlights the importance for citizens to have free access to information in democratic systems. Only by fostering media freedom, public access to information and free uncensorsed access to internet is it possible to achieve equitable and empowered societies.
This year, the IFJ is marking Access to Information Day by denouncing the increasing number of media and internet shutdowns in 2019. Despite the growth in internet penetration and the approval of several freedom of and/or access to information laws in the world, we are witnessing an unrelenting pushback on the fundamental right of citizens to free access to information.
According to IFJ research, 30 countries have blocked media outlets or internet access at least once during 2019. While most of the shutdowns occurred in Asian and African countries, governments from all over the world are adding to the trend of controlling citizens’ media and internet access.
The 2018 #KeepItOn report recorded a 161% increase of internet shutdowns from 2016 to 2018 (75 in 2016 for 196 in 2018), while politically motivated media shutdowns have become widespread.
Among the countries most prominent in attacking freedom of information are Egypt, with over 34,000 different websites suffering intermittent partial or complete blocks in April 2019, India, with up to 72 targeted internet shutdowns across the country and Turkey, where at least 170 media outlets have been closed down since 2016 over accusations of spreading “terrorist propaganda”. But they are not the only ones. In addition to India, Asia-Pacific countries like Myanmar, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Iran, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan cut the internet or closed media outlets arbitrarily.
The cut of internet and shutdown of critical media is also a widespread practice in Africa, where up to 10 countries imposed internet access blockades. In this context, the case of Sudan stands out, where the Bashir Government blocked social media service prior to its demise and the Military Transitional council did the same when it took power. The media crackdown in Somalia is especially worrying, where authorities are permanently blocking access to independent media outlets.
Apart from Turkey, seven other European countries have suspended some media access and blocked internet to date this year. Russia drafted legislation that would ban the distribution of print media without government permission and blocked internet access during protests in Moscow on August 6. Ukraine, Belgium, Hungary and Bulgaria have also blocked access to different media so far in 2019.
In the Latin American region, Venezuela imposed several internet shutdowns and restrictions during the first months of the year. In this region the closure of media was due to economic pressure from governments, especially in Guatemala and Honduras.
IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger, said: “We are witnessing how governments use excuses of all kinds to prevent citizens’ free access to information. On the International Day for Universal Access to Information, we want to condemn those governments who block the free access to information and internet and call on them to adopt information laws that guarantee and protect this access. This is a non-negotiable right in any democratic system”.