Following disruption of internet services in Anglophone regions in Cameroon, two international digital advocacy groups have joined the increasing outcry against the country’s government.
A consortium of local and regional civil society organizations had previously sued the government for blocking access to the internet in the South West and North West English-speaking regions. The advocacy groups, Access Now and Internet Sans Frontières (ISF) will now intervene on behalf of these civil organizations.
In court, documents filed to the constitutional council and seen by Quartz, the organizations say the current shutdown violates the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, non-discrimination based on language, and hinders economic, social, and cultural rights.
The filings, the first of its kind against a government by the organizations, seek to show the internet cut-off was violating regional and international frameworks that support the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through digital means. The petitioners also hope to show that the blanket ban was not proportionate and that the government failed to present a legitimate aim for the blackout
Speaking on the matter, Peter Micek, the general counsel for Access Now said, “Justice delayed is justice denied.
“The government needs to hear clearly, and urgently, from courts that these shutdowns violate Cameroonian and international law, and must end.”
Anglophone regions for over a year now have had the internet either been shut down or slowed down, with messaging and social media apps blocked for a total of 214 days as of Jan. 29 this year, according to both ISF and Access.
The interference is heavily being linked to protests in the two regions demonstrated against political and economic discrimination from the majority French-speaking government. Last October, separatists declared independence for a region they called Ambazonia, leading the government to kickstart a military crackdown. The violence that followed has threatened to spin out of control, leading to dozens of deaths and pushing at least 43,000 people to flee to Nigeria, according to Reuters.
The disruption has consequently strained the country’s economy with massive set backs for the growing tech industry in Buea town known as Silicon Mountain, Cameroon’s version of the famed Silicon Valley.
Micek hopes the new lawsuit will attract global attention to how serious internet blackouts affect economic and human development.
He also advised Telcos who have been pressured to suspend connectivity to ally themselves against government censorship and not let officials “abuse their licenses and power over telcos to silence at-risk communities,” he said. “These disruptions will no longer occur in the dark.”