SMS services have been suspended in the Democratic Republic of Congo, allegedly to prevent the spread of electoral related rumours. Mobile services providers and media in DRC announced on November 4th, that by order of the Government, SMS services had been suspended in order to prevent people from sharing results before being are announced by the Elections Commission.
As a global civil society network advocating on internet rights, Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and its network of partners in DRC deplore this move and urge the Government to explore other options for combating potential fraud. Cutting access to communications is a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information protected under DRC constitution and under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The decision to cut these services is particularly troubling during the global campaign of 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women. Both internet and SMS services are crucial to women facing violence.
Women’s rights organisations in the DRC are part of a global 16 days of activism initiative called Take Back the Tech!, which aims to bring an end to violence against women through the use of technology. This campaign can be significantly affected by the move to cut access to SMS services. Campaign partners in the DRC use internet and mobile phone technology to help report cases of violence against women and can have a positive impact in addressing violence against women in the country.
As one of the most accessible and widest form of communication tools available, mobile phones are extremely important to women and girls, who rely on their mobile phones to communicate and get immediate help and support when violence occurs. Cutting off SMS services disproportionately impacts the communication rights of the poorer sections of Congolese society, of which women and girls make up the majority of the demographic.
Take Back the Tech! and our partners strongly urge authorities in the DRC to look into other ways to ensure that elections are free and fair. Cutting communications is likely to breed suspicion, fuel rumour mills and contribute to uncertainty and violence. This would directly go against the aim of protecting the electoral process.
Take Bach the Tech! Is a collaborative campaign that takes place during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence (25 Nov – 10 Dec). It is a call to everyone – especially women and girls – to take control of technology to end violence against women. To find out more, go to: www.takebackthetech.net
About APC: The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network and non-profit organisation founded in 1990 that wants everyone to have access to a free and open internet to improve lives and create a more just world. www.apc.org