11.30.2020
By Crystal Fomba
Internet Shutdowns in the Digital Age
What this means for our right to peacefully assemble

In an incredibly unprecedented year grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen more than ever how our world heavily relies on technology to function. In particular, the internet has evolved into a crucial part of everyday life. From accessing necessary public health information on the spread of COVID-19 to now relying on it to facilitate virtual schooling, remote working and more; this last year has proven how critical the internet is to our way of life and how access to it is necessary to realize many human rights. With that in mind, this report explores the increasingly dangerous trend of internet shutdowns. Oppressive regimes around the world have employed this tactic to prevent their citizens from mobilizing around social issues and to infringe on their right to peacefully assemble. In July of this year, the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) court handed down a landmark decision, holding that the West African Country of Togo, violated its citizens' fundamental right to freedom of expression when it shut down the internet for several days amidst 2017 anti-government protests. As the most recent decision handed down by a judicial body on the topic of internet shutdowns, this provides an important precedent for the protection from internet shutdowns in the region. This paper examines the ECOWAS court's decision and will delve into how the use of internet shutdowns also infringes on the right to peaceful assembly, with examples from around the world. Read the full report here