It is with grave concern that the members of the ACTION Coalition in Namibia have been watching what has been unfolding in the human rights space, and more especially the freedom of expression and access to information space, in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region since the beginning of January 2019.
The ACTION Coalition’s concerns centre mainly around the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe and what transpired after the December 2018 presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Over the last two weeks we have taken note of the suppression of free expression and the right to information through an internet shutdown in the Republic of Zimbabwe by the government and security forces of that country. It should be noted that the internet shutdown has been declared illegal by the Zimbabwean High Court this past week.
It is thus clear that the actions of the Zimbabwean state – in attempting to counter and quell widespread protests following the surprise introduction of a unilateral, unaffordable and highly questionable fuel price increase earlier in the month – have been grossly and brutally heavy-handed and ruinous, especially to the already significantly damaged image of the country and now the still fledgling administration of president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
It is clear to the ACTION Coalition, as it is to many others in the region and around the world, that the Mnangagwa presidency has not heralded a new dawn for Zimbabwe, following the repressive Mugabe regime, but appears to be more of the same.
It is against this backdrop that we, the ACTION Coalition, call on the chairperson of SADC, Namibian president Hage Geingob, to urgently seek the protection of human rights – including lifting internet and social media restrictions and various other information blackout measures still in place – in Zimbabwe and to urge the Zimbabwean government to end the attacks on civilians and to free political detainees.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC)
At the end of December 2018, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) went to the polls to elect a new president and administration.
The aftermath of especially the DRC elections have damaged the image of electoral standards in the DRC itself and in the wider SADC region.
It is in light of this that we, the ACTION Coalition, wish to point out that there appeared to be compelling evidence that the outcome of the DRC’s presidential election was fraudulent and that SADC, by endorsing the result, has therefore failed to uphold the electoral standards it claims to espouse.
It is for this reason that we call on the chairperson of SADC, Namibian President Hage Geingob, to call a special SADC meeting to review the electoral situation in the region in order to seek to ensure the highest standards be applied, especially as many SADC states including Namibia are due to hold national and presidential elections in 2019.
Furthermore, the ACTION Coalition wants to underline and emphasise the fact that SADC and its leaders were mute about the internet shutdowns or information blackouts in Zimbabwe and the DRC.
In general, we note with heightened concern that internet blackouts now appear to have become an acceptable means of controlling freedom of expression and information across the African continent as the use of shutdowns seems to be increasingly prevalent.
Thus, we call on the African Union (AU) and regional economic and political blocs to advise their members to desist from using internet shutdowns as tools of oppression, as such measures are blatant violations of fundamental human rights and only eventually lead to fuelling citizens’ frustrations and anger and thus to more instability and insecurity.
Chairperson, ACTION Coalition
ABOUT THE ACTION NAMIBIA COALITION:
The ACTION Coalition is a network of Namibian human rights and free expression organisations who collectively campaign to for a formal and comprehensive Access to Information legislative framework to improve accountability and transparency across all sectors of Namibian society. The Coalition is a supporter of the #KeepItOn campaign.
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