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Algeria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government monitored certain email and social media sites.

Internet users regularly exercised their right to free expression and association online, including through online forums, social media, and email. Activists reported that some postings on social media could result in arrest and questioning; observers widely understood that the intelligence services closely monitored the activities of political and human rights activists on social media sites, including Facebook.

Police arrested Abdelkarim Zeghileche, director of the independent radio station Radio Sarbacane, on June 23 and placed him in pretrial detention. On August 24, the Constantine court convicted and sentenced Zeghileche to two years in prison for “offense to the president of the Republic” and sharing social media posts “undermining national unity.”

There was some disruption of communication prior to planned antigovernment demonstrations during the year, namely internet shutdowns, the blocking of access to certain online news sites and social media platforms, and the restricting or censorship of content. In March parts of the country continued to experience internet outages during hirak protests.

The law on cybercrime establishes procedures for using electronic data in prosecutions and outlines the responsibilities of internet service providers (ISPs) to cooperate with authorities. Under the law the government may conduct electronic surveillance to prevent terrorist or subversive acts and infractions against state security, pursuant to written authorization from a competent judicial authority.

By law ISPs face criminal penalties for the material and websites they host, especially if subject matters are “incompatible with morality or public opinion.” The Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Post, Information Technology, and Communication have oversight responsibilities. The law provides sentences of six months to five years in prison and fines for users who do not comply with the law, including the obligation to cooperate with law enforcement authorities against cybercrime.

For a fourth year, the government blocked access to social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, for several days during nationwide high school examinations. The decision was in response to previous leaks of examination materials, which were posted on social media.

Angola

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal oversight.

Benin

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government censored online content, but it did not restrict public access to the internet or monitor private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law states that operation of “a website providing audiovisual communication and print media services intended for the public is subject to the authorization” of HAAC. On July 7, HAAC issued an order for all online media outlets “without authorization” to halt publication or face sanctions. The National Council of Benin’s Press and Audiovisual Employers issued a statement deploring HAAC’s decision (see section 2.a.).

Botswana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government did monitor social media content related to COVID-19 while enforcing state of emergency rules (see section 1.f.).

Burkina Faso

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The law permits a judge, at the request of a “public minister” (prosecutor), to block internet websites or email addresses being used to spread “false information” to the public. The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet; however, the CSC and the chief prosecutor monitored internet websites and discussion forums to enforce compliance with regulations.

Burundi

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government sometimes restricted or disrupted access to the internet or censored online content. Some citizens relied heavily on the social media platforms WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook on both internet and mobile telephone networks to get information concerning current events. There were no verifiable reports the government monitored email or internet chat rooms. Several journalists stated they were generally freer in their reporting online than on radio and other media more closely controlled by the government, particularly when posting in French or English rather than in local languages. Several radio stations that were closed in 2015 continued to broadcast radio segments and issue articles online.

Some media websites were occasionally unavailable to internet users in the country. Publications affected included the newspaper Iwacu and the online publication Ikiriho prior to its suspension in 2018 by the Ministry of Justice. There was no official comment on the outages; both the reason and mechanism remained unclear. In most cases the outages lasted a few days before access was restored. Websites, including Facebook, WhatsApp, You Tube, and Twitter, were inaccessible to users on May 20, election day. Netblocks.org, an organization monitoring internet shutdowns, determined that access to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp had been restricted by the government. Access was restored in the evening of the same day. Government officials did not comment on the internet disruption.

Cabo Verde

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Cameroon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

Anecdotal reports indicated that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government occasionally disrupted access to the internet.

Central African Republic

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content. There were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Chad

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and directly censored online content, such as Facebook. There was widespread speculation the government monitored private online communications, blocked sites, and arrested activists for postings on social media.

In July the government banned social media throughout the country and cut internet access outside N’Djamena. This followed an incident the same month at the Champ de Fil market, where a member of the presidential guard allegedly killed a motorcycle mechanic and was subsequently rescued from an angry crowd after receiving a severe beating. The incident sparked critical commentary on social media, including calls for ethnic violence. On August 8, the president stated the government disrupted social media to prevent interethnic violence; he did not explain the restrictions to internet access. On October 2, authorities ended these restrictions. Throughout this period social media users in N’Djamena could access apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp with the use of a virtual private network.

Côte d’Ivoire

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

There were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Djibouti

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to prevent demonstrations or overly critical views of the government. The government required that independent news and entertainment platforms receive a special license from the Ministry of Communication. This procedure discouraged freedom of expression on social media. The country’s law does not give law enforcement the legal authority to monitor social media.

Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, blocked access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and independent streaming platform Voice of Djibouti, which criticized the government.

Egypt

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The constitution prohibits the government from “arbitrarily” interrupting, disconnecting, or depriving citizens seeking to use all forms of internet communications.

Telecommunications services and internet service providers are regulated by the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority under the 2003 Telecommunication Regulation Law. The law does not guarantee the independence of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. The government centralized the internet infrastructure and fiber-optic cables, allowing considerable state control over internet access, including restricting and disrupting user access and censoring online content. Law enforcement agencies restricted or disrupted individuals’ access to the internet, and the government monitored social media accounts and internet usage, relying on a law that only allows targeted interception of communications under judicial oversight for a limited period and does not permit indiscriminate mass surveillance. The public prosecutor prosecuted individuals accused of posting “insulting” material.

On August 25, a criminal court in a terrorism circuit sentenced in absentia the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Bahey Eldin Hassan, to 15 years in prison for publishing false news and insulting the judiciary. In March Hassan, who lived abroad, learned that a criminal court in a separate case sentenced him in September 2019 in absentia to three years in prison on charges of spreading false news and tweeting phrases that undermined and discredited the judiciary. Hassan criticized the Public Prosecution on Twitter in 2018.

The counterterrorism law criminalizes the use of the internet to “promote ideas or beliefs that call for terrorist acts” or to “broadcast what is intended to mislead security authorities or influence the course of justice in relation to any terrorist crime.” The law also authorizes the public prosecutor and investigators to monitor and record online communications among suspects in terrorism cases for a period of 30 days, renewable in 30-day increments. The law does not specify a maximum period. On October 8, several UN human rights special rapporteurs in the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated the country was using “terrorism charges” and “terrorism circuit courts” “to target legitimate human rights activities,” silence dissent, and detain activists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cybercrime law states, “The relevant investigating authority may, when the evidence indicates that a website is broadcasting phrases, numbers, pictures, videos, or any promotional material, that constitutes one of the crimes enshrined in this law, and poses a threat to national security or endangers the security or economy of the country, order the blocking of the website.” The government issued implementing regulations for the law on August 27. On May 20, several local human rights organizations accused the government of restricting access to information during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media reported that authorities arrested a group of women in June and July who posted videos on the TikTok social media app. On July 27, a Cairo Economic Court sentenced TikTok influencers Haneen Hossam and Mawada Eladhm and three others to two years in prison and fined each for “violating family values” based on the cybercrime law. An appeal was scheduled for January 10, 2021. On August 18, a criminal court upheld an administrative decision to freeze the assets of Hossam and Eladhm.

On August 6, authorities released TikTok influencer Manar Samy on bail pending an appeal. On September 19, a Tanta Economic Court upheld her sentence of three years in prison with hard labor for “inciting debauchery and violating family values” for content she posted on social media. Authorities also arrested members of Samy’s family for resisting authorities. On September 30, a Cairo Economic Court sentenced TikTok influencers Sherifa Rifaat, known as “Sherry Hanim,” and her daughter, Zumoroda, to six years in prison and fined each for assaulting family values and inciting prostitution. A court was scheduled to examine the appeal in January 2021.

There were reports the government temporarily blocked access to internet messaging applications.

The government attempted to disrupt the communications of terrorist groups operating in Sinai by cutting mobile services, internet, and sometimes landlines.

The law obliges internet service providers and mobile operators to allow government access to customer databases, allowing security forces to obtain information regarding activities of specific customers, which observers noted could lead to lack of online anonymity.

There were reports authorities monitored social media and internet dating sites to identify and arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).

On June 25, a local media rights organization reported that since May 2017 the state had blocked at least 547 websites, including at least 127 news websites. The blocked sites included international NGOs, local human rights NGOs, and numerous virtual private network services. Some blockages appeared intended to respond to critical coverage of the government or to disrupt antigovernment political activity or demonstrations. On April 9, authorities blocked the newly established Daarb website run by human rights defender Khaled al Balshy, one month after its launch.

In 2017 the news website Mada Masr sued the government seeking information on why it was blocked. In 2018 the Court of Administrative Justice referred the case for technical review by the Justice Ministry’s Authority of Experts. This review was pending at year’s end.

Equatorial Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet and censored online content. During the 2017 legislative and municipal elections, the government blocked all access to the internet for approximately 10 days. Access to Facebook and opposition blogs Diario Rombe and Radio Macuto continued to be generally restricted.

Users attempting to access political opposition sites were redirected to the government’s official press website or received a message that the websites did not exist. WhatsApp and the internet were the primary ways that the opposition expressed and disseminated their views.

Eritrea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government monitored some internet communications, including email, without appropriate legal authority. Government informants were reported to frequent internet cafes, prior to their closure as an anti-COVID-19 measure. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing opposition sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available.

In February a media report described the deployment of a 30-member intelligence unit to monitor internet activities. The report also claimed that an unspecified number of technology experts and cyber cafe owners arrested in 2019 on accusations of disseminating material from the diaspora and supporting an opposition group in exile remained in detention.

Ethiopia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government periodically restricted and disrupted access to the internet and blocked social media sites. From January to March, the government completely shut down the internet in the Wellega and Guji zones of Oromia. As of the end of the year, the Guji Zone of Oromia continued to experience periodic internet shutdowns.

From June 30 to July 23, the government shut down the internet nationally after the killing of Hachalu Hundessa and subsequent civil unrest in Oromia and Addis Ababa. On July 15, internet access was partially restored in Addis Ababa and on July 23, restored nationwide.

On November 4, telephone, cell phone, and internet services were shut down in the Tigray Region and as of December 31, the internet was still down, although telephone services improved throughout the region.

The Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation addresses hate speech in social media. The law prohibits dissemination of hate speech or disinformation through broadcasting, print, or social media using text, image, audio, or video. Conviction of a crime described under the law is punishable with imprisonment for no more than two years or a substantial monetary fine. A person convicted of violating the misinformation law may face no more than one year in prison or a substantial monetary fine. If their action results in a person or group being attacked due to hate speech, the punishment for conviction may be between one year and five years of incarceration. If a person is convicted of hate speech or disinformation via broadcasting services, print media, or a social media account of more than 5,000 followers, the violator faces one to three years in prison or a substantial monetary fine. There was one case pending under this law at year’s end.

Gabon

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Gambia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Ghana

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Guinea

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet. It did not censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The government did, however, monitor social media platforms and exploited the law to punish journalists for posting or sharing information critical of the government. In March widespread internet disruptions occurred starting the day before the polls opened for the legislative election and constitutional referendum until the day after the polls closed. The director of internet service provider GUILAB SA, who is appointed by the minister of posts, telecommunications and digital economy, announced the disruption was due to maintenance. The government owned 52.55 percent of GUILAB.

On October 23, authorities suspended all cell phone data and international calling, and blocked various social media platforms. The government stated it suspended these services in response to postelectoral violence. Cell phone data and international calling services were restored several days later. Full social media access was restored in December.

Guinea-Bissau

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored online communications without appropriate legal authority. President Sissoco announced on July 7 that intelligence services would use equipment acquired from abroad to begin monitoring citizen communications and “call to justice” anyone who insulted or defamed another resident of the country. As of December there was no evidence that government had begun monitoring citizen communications.

Kenya

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities, however, monitored websites for violations of hate speech laws. According to the Freedom on the Net report, authorities used laws on hate speech and defamation to prosecute online critics of the government. In 2018 President Kenyatta signed into law the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, but the High Court suspended enforcement of 26 sections of the law pending further hearings. The court based the suspension on complaints that the law was overly vague and subject to misuse, criminalized defamation, and failed to include intent requirements in key provisions and exceptions for public use and whistleblowers. In February the High Court found the provisions constitutional and lifted the suspension. The provisions were applied for the first time in March when a man was arrested for publishing false information on social media related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and authorities arrested numerous bloggers and social media users for allegedly spreading false information online. In October the High Court nullified 23 bills, including the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, that were passed by the National Assembly without involving the Senate. The court suspended the order for nine months, however, and the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act remained in effect.

By law mobile telephone service providers may block mass messages they judge would incite violence. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission tracked bloggers and social media users accused of spreading hate speech.

Privacy International reported the National Intelligence Service had direct access to the country’s telecommunications networks that allows for the interception of communications data. Furthermore, Privacy International reported the National Police Service also had surveillance powers, established in the National Police Service Act and the National Police Service Commission Act of 2011. Freedom House additionally reported authorities used various types of surveillance technologies to monitor citizens.

Lesotho

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was not widely available and almost nonexistent in rural areas due to lack of communications infrastructure and high cost of access.

Liberia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

Unlike in the previous year, the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet during the year. In July 2019 in the lead-up to and during a planned protest, the government blocked usage of both Orange and Lonestar Cell MTN, the two mobile networks in the country. When protesters dispersed, access was restored.

There were no additional reports the government censored online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

There were reports of government officials threatening legal action and filing civil lawsuits in attempts to censor protected internet-based speech and intimidate content creators.

Libya

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The GNA generally did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or widely censor online content. Selective filtering or blocking of access did exist, despite the fact that no reliable public information identified those responsible for censorship. There were reports that GNA-aligned groups monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority (see section 1.f.).

Facebook pages were regularly hacked by unknown actors or closed due to mass reporting and complaints.

Social media, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, played a critical role in official and unofficial government and nongovernmental communications. Facebook remained the main platform government officials, ministries, and armed groups used to transmit information to the public. A significant body of evidence suggested that foreign actors sought to influence domestic opinion and incite violence in the country by spreading deliberate misinformation on social media and other platforms.

A large number of bloggers, online journalists, and citizens reported practicing self-censorship due to intimidation by armed groups and the uncertain political situation.

Madagascar

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

The law prohibits insulting or defaming a government official online. According to Reporters without Borders, “the law’s failure to define what is meant by ‘insult’ or ‘defamation’ leaves room for very broad interpretation and major abuses.” The law provides for punishment of two to five years’ imprisonment and fines for defamation.

Public access to the internet was limited mainly to urban areas. Political groups, parties, and activists used the internet extensively to advance their agendas, share news, and criticize other parties. Observers generally considered the internet (not including social media) to be among the more reliable sources of information.

Malawi

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The 2017 Electronic Transactions and Cyber Security Act criminalizes the act of “knowingly receiving and sharing unauthorized data” and stipulates that a person convicted of sharing or receiving such information is subject to a substantial monetary fine and up to five years’ imprisonment. The law also makes it a crime for any person, willfully and repeatedly, to use electronic communication to attempt to disturb the peace or right of privacy of any person. Civil society organizations decried passage of the law, arguing it was meant to silence persons on social media ahead of the May 2019 national elections. As of November no one had been charged with a crime under the law. Lack of infrastructure and the high cost of internet connections limited internet access.

Mali

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

During the July protests, the government restricted and interrupted internet access across the country. In its November report focused on human rights abuses committed during those protests, MINUSMA’s HRPD noted that various social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and messaging applications Messenger and WhatsApp, were rendered inaccessible on the Orange and Malitel networks during the protests. The internet freedom NGO, NetBlocks, similarly reported that amid the antigovernment protests between July 10 and July 15, social media and messaging were restricted. The Malian Association of Online Press Professionals condemned the disruption.

There were no credible reports suggesting the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Mauritania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

During the year the government rarely restricted or disrupted access to the internet or censored online content, and there was no evidence that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Between September 21 and September 30, the government disrupted the country’s 3G network several times as part of a coordinated, annual effort to combat cheating on the national high school exams. The networks were immediately re-established upon conclusion of the exam period on each day.

On June 24, the National Assembly approved a new law aimed at prohibiting allegedly false news posts on social media. The law aims to fight against the manipulation of information during an election period or during periods of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Many opposition parliamentarians as well as human rights activists denounced the law, declaring that it risks undermining the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.

Mauritius

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet. There were continuing reports that police tapped cellphones and email of journalists and opposition politicians.

Morocco

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not disrupt access to the internet, but it did apply laws governing and restricting public speech and the press on the internet. The press code stipulates that online journalism is equivalent to print journalism. Laws on combatting terrorism permit the government to filter websites. According to Freedom House’s 2020 Freedom on the Net report, the government did not block or filter any political, social, or religious websites during the year. Nonetheless, security officials pressured activists to delete sensitive content. The same report indicated there has been an influx of progovernment online outlets that published false and defamatory news about dissidents. The report also noted there have been cases in which bloggers were arrested or imprisoned for content the government deemed politically sensitive. Social media and communication services, including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, were available in the country, as were international blog-hosting services. Freedom House claimed, however, that unfair disbursement of advertising money, strict self-censorship, and continuing trials of journalists have prevented the emergence of a vibrant online media environment. According to the government, funds for advertisements derive from the private sector, not from the public sector. The government also repeatedly reminded online journalists to obey the law. The government also prosecuted individuals for expressing certain ideological views online, particularly related to protests in the northern Rif region.

According to Freedom House, numerous accounts were created on Twitter and Facebook with the apparent purpose of harassing, intimidating, and threatening activists who criticize authorities. Activists believed these progovernment commentators were also equipped with direct or indirect access to surveillance tools, since they often obtained private information about other users.

Many contributors working for online news outlets and many online news outlets themselves were unaccredited and therefore not covered under the press code for their publications. They remained subject to provisions of the antiterrorism law and the penal code that permit the government to jail and impose financial penalties on anyone who violates restrictions related to defamation, libel, and insults.

On April 27, a draft bill seeking to limit social media commentary promoting boycotts and businesses was leaked. After the draft language sparked rapid and broad condemnation by civil society, the minister of justice on May 3 withdrew the bill from consideration and initiated consultations on the proposed legislation with the CNDH and civil society. On May 12, during a video conference on human rights, CNDH president Amina Bouayach said she considered the bill significantly “outdated” and “unsuitable for Morocco,” reiterating that the CNDH had a clear stance on free speech online and viewed social media as “an incubator of freedoms.”

According to various NGOs, the government frequently hacked Sahrawi citizen journalists’ and bloggers’ social media accounts.

Mozambique

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; however, there were reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. For example, members of civil society reported government intelligence agents monitored email and used false names to infiltrate social network discussion groups, and internet freedom advocates believed the intelligence service monitored online content critical of the government.

Namibia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communication without appropriate legal authority.

Nigeria

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, but challenges with infrastructure and affordability persisted. The NGO Freedom House reported that internet providers sometimes blocked websites at the request of the Nigerian Communications Commission, particularly websites advocating independence for Biafra. The internet and communications technology enterprise Paradigm Initiative reported that mobile internet providers blocked websites related to the #EndSARS protests.

Civil society organizations and journalists expressed concern regarding the broad powers provided by the law on cybercrime. Some local and state governments used the law to arrest journalists, bloggers, and critics for alleged hate speech. On August 17, authorities in Akwa Ibom State arrested journalist Ime Sunday Silas following his publication of a report, Exposed: Okobo PDP Chapter Chair Links Governor Udom’s Wife with Plot to Blackmail Deputy Speaker. Authorities charged Silas with “cyberstalking.” Silas’s case was pending before the court at year’s end. The law on cybercrimes had yet to be fully tested in the courts. Legislative interest and calls for regulating social media increased due to concerns it plays a role in accelerating rural and electoral violence.

Republic of the Congo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

There were unverifiable reports government authorities monitored private digital communications without appropriate legal authority, including email, text messaging, or other digital communications intended to remain private. Government officials often corresponded with opposition or diaspora personalities using social media accounts, encouraging online discussion of major news events.

Rwanda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The law includes the right of all citizens to “receive, disseminate, or send information through the internet,” including the right to start and maintain a website. All provisions of media law apply to web-based publications. The government restricts the types of online content that users can access, particularly content that strays from the government’s official line, and continued to block websites. The government continued to monitor email and internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views online, including by email and social media, but were subject to monitoring. In May 2019 the minister of information and communications technology and innovation announced the government planned to impose regulations on social media content to combat misinformation and protect citizens. The government did not announce any further details.

According to a 2010 law relating to electronic messages, signatures, and transactions, intermediaries and service providers are not held liable for content transmitted through their networks. Nonetheless, service providers are required to remove content when handed a takedown notice, and there are no avenues for appeal.

Government-run social media accounts were used to debate and at times intimidate individuals who posted online comments considered critical of the government.

The government blocked access within the country to several websites critical of its policies, including websites of the Rwandan diaspora.

Senegal

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The law grants the Senegalese Regulatory Authority for Telecommunications and Post and existing internet service providers the ability to limit or block access to certain online sites and social networks.

Seychelles

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content and there were no reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Sierra Leone

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

There were no reports that the government restricted or disrupted access to the internet. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority (see section 1.d, Arbitrary Arrest–Sylvia Blyden case).

Somalia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

Authorities restricted access to the internet, but there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Al-Shabaab prohibited companies from providing access to the internet and forced telecommunications companies to shut data services in al-Shabaab-controlled areas.

South Africa

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law authorizes state monitoring of telecommunication systems, however, including the internet and email, for national security reasons. The law requires all service providers to register on secure databases the identities, physical addresses, and telephone numbers of customers.

South Sudan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government’s South Sudan National Communication Authority frequently blocked access to certain websites, such as two popular news websites, Radio Tamazuj and Sudan Tribune, and two blogs, Paanluel Wel and Nyamilepedia, accused of disseminating “nonpeace” messages considered not to be “in the best interest of peace building in this country.” There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The government also targeted and intimidated individuals–especially those outside of Juba–who were critical of the government in open online forums and social media.

Sudan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Tanzania

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government restricted access to the internet and monitored websites and internet traffic. In July the TCRA introduced new categories for online content licenses for news, educational, religious, and entertainment content, which widely expanded the scope of required license holders. The new categories require applicants for online content services, such as bloggers and persons operating online forums, to obtain licenses specifying a category of license depending on the content being offered. In addition, all online content providers must pay application and licensing fees totaling more than two million TZS ($870) in initial costs. Licenses are valid for three years, must be renewed annually for one million TZS ($435), and can be renewed upon expiration. Prohibitive costs led some citizens to stop blogging or posting content on online forums, including international social media platforms.

Under the regulations, internet cafes must install surveillance cameras to monitor persons online. Online material deemed “offensive, morally improper” or that “causes annoyance” is prohibited, and those charged with violating the regulations face a substantial monetary fine or a minimum sentence of 12 months in prison. The law criminalizes the publication of false information, defined as “information, data or facts presented in a picture, texts, symbol, or any other form in a computer system where such information, data, or fact is false, deceptive, misleading, or inaccurate.” Individuals who made critical comments on electronic media about the government were charged under the law, even when remarks reflected opinions or were factually true.

On January 21, police in Dodoma arrested Mugaya Tungu, a second-year student at the University of Dodoma, for cybercrimes. He allegedly posted on social media a photo of a long line of students waiting for water at the university campus.

On April 11, police in Shinyanga arrested Mariam Jumanne Sanane for cybercrimes for allegedly posting false information regarding COVID-19 on social media. On April 14, another person was arrested in Kilimanjaro for alleged cybercrimes after reporting on COVID-19 numbers. As of October, Sanane was awaiting trial.

In the days leading up to the October 28 elections, the internet slowed down and popular social media sites including Twitter, WhatsApp, Facebook, and YouTube were either blocked or rendered unusable, preventing the free flow of information. The TCRA also blocked bulk SMS messaging in the lead-up to the elections until November 11.

Togo

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The law criminalizes the dissemination of false information online and the production and sharing of data that undermine “order, public security, or breach human dignity.” A person convicted of violating the law may be sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Although no cases were prosecuted, human rights organizations reported the law continued to contribute to an atmosphere of “restricted civic space,” an environment in which citizens self-censor due to their fear of being punished for sharing actual thoughts and opinions.

The government restricted access to the internet on the day of the presidential election, February 22, and the following day, February 23.

On February 21, the chairman of the Independent National Election Commission (CENI) stated that an internet shutdown could occur during the voting process. The Open Observatory of Network Interference reported blocked access to several instant-messaging applications, including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram for Togo Telecom and Atlantique Telecom subscribers shortly after polls closed on February 22. In March, the NGO Access Now reported that the government prevented access to those several internet services during the election.

On June 25, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice ruled that the 2017 internet shutdown ordered by the government due to opposition party protests was illegal. The court ordered the government to pay approximately $3,500 in compensation to the plaintiffs and to implement safeguards to protect the right to freedom of expression in the country.

Tunisia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Although government officials acknowledged a Ministry of Justice effort to review and revise the 1968 code of criminal procedures (CPP) and the 1913 penal code to comply with the 2014 constitution, activists and members of civil society expressed concern with the slow pace of reforms. Apart from a few discrete modifications to sections governing rape and pretrial detention, no changes have been made to the penal code since 2011, leading authorities to enforce provisions of the penal code that appear to contradict the rights and freedoms protected in the constitution. For the CPP, however, the government has introduced notable changes, including the introduction of alternatives to incarceration and probation (see section 1.c., Improvements), reorganization of Judicial Police and moving the Office of the Judicial Police under the authority of the Ministry of Justice, and applying a more refined definition of flagrante delicto, obvious offense. As of October 2019, the independent committee of experts in charge of amending these two criminal codes submitted revisions to the CPP to the Justice Ministry, enabling the ministry to prepare a draft law to parliament for review and adoption. By the end of January, the Ministry of Justice had nearly completed its efforts to revise the 1913 penal code to comply with the 2014 constitution and international human rights norms, according to representatives of the committee responsible for this process, but the revisions were pending parliamentary approval as of December.

Civil society activists continued to cite the lack of a constitutional court as hindering efforts to align existing legislation with the 2014 constitution and international human rights norms, particularly legislation pertaining to individual freedoms and fundamental rights (see section 3).

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without legal authority. There was no censorship of websites, including those with pornographic content, with the exception of websites linked to terrorist organizations.

On July 14, the First Instance Court of Tunis sentenced blogger Emna Chargui to six months in prison and a fine for a TikTok video that mimicked the format of a Quranic verse to comment on the COVID-19 pandemic. Chargui was charged with “inciting hatred between religions through hostile means or violence” and “offending authorized religions.” Civil society organizations criticized the court’s decision and called on authorities to overturn Chargui’s conviction. Chargui announced through a Facebook post on August 8 that she left Tunisia to seek asylum elsewhere. Her appeal remained under court review.

Uganda

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, monitored internet communications without appropriate legal authority, and punished internet users who expressed divergent political views. On September 8, the Uganda Communications Commission announced that it had given online publishers, bloggers, and influencers until October 5 to register with them for a $20 annual license before they continued content production for public consumption, which some criticized as an attempt to restrict online media. According to the Freedom on the Net Report, government officials openly monitored social media posts. Human rights activists, journalists, and opposition politicians reported the ruling party’s communications arm sponsored a multitude of bots and fake online accounts to attack opposition politicians and activists on social media. Authorities used laws against cyberharassment and offensive communication to intimidate critics and to stop women from publicly identifying their abusers online (see section 6). On March 5, the HRNJU reported the UPF in Kumi District arrested journalist James Odongo Akia on cyberharassment, defamation, and computer misuse charges, accusing him of using a pseudo account to defame the UPDF commander for land forces, Peter Elwelu, and a local medic, John Okure. A court remanded Akia to prison on March 10 and granted him bail on March 13. The trial continued at year’s end.

Zambia

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

Although government generally did not restrict access, and individuals and groups could freely express their views via the internet, the government threatened individuals using online fora with arrest and online media with closure. According to the Zambia Information Communications Technology Authority, it has the capacity to monitor WhatsApp conversations and disable any communication device. In August 2019 the newspaper Wall Street Journal alleged that a government cybercrime squad intercepted encrypted communications and tracked data from the mobile phones of some opposition bloggers who had repeatedly criticized the president. Senior ruling party officials dismissed the allegation as “fake news.” On March 9, police arrested a boy age 15 and charged him with libel. He was accused of using a Facebook account under the name “Zoom” to defame and insult the president. The NGO Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services Initiative reported that the boy’s arrest engendered fear among internet users who practiced increased self-censorship as a result.

Zimbabwe

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Internet Freedom

The law permits the government to monitor all communications in the country, including internet transmissions. Internet and mobile phone communication in the country was widely available. The government, however, regulated internet and mobile phone communication to curb dissent and increased its share of the information and communications technology market and international gateways.

The government regularly monitored and interfered with use of social media. In June independent journalists reported that supporters of President Mnangagwa used denial-of-service attacks on social media and the internet to silence their voices. As a result, independent news websites had to shut down temporarily. Several independent journalists reported bot-style attacks on their Twitter accounts consisting primarily of false reports of rule violations. Edmund Kudzayi, who ran a news service on WhatsApp, said Twitter warned him several times after anonymous ZANU-PF supporters had falsely reported his account for sharing private information.

On May 30, Tichoana Zindoga, editor of the online news site Mail and Review, reported more than 2,000 malicious login attempts, which led to the temporary shutdown of his website.

The communications laws facilitated eavesdropping and call interception by state security personnel. The law allows law enforcement officers to apply to the responsible minister for a warrant authorizing them to intercept communications, including calls, emails, and other messages. Regulations permit officers to apply for interception warrants if they know the identities of individuals whose calls and messages they want to intercept. There were no reported applications of this provision.

On March 3, Zimbabwe National Army commander Edzai Zimonyo warned that the military would begin monitoring civilian communication on social media that “poses a dangerous threat to national security.” Zimonyo accused detractors of resorting to “social media platforms to subvert security forces,” encouraged senior army officers to order those in their “command to guard against such threats,” and warned anyone working on a networked computer was under threat of cybercrime, hacking, and subversion.

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