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Africa's internet freedom faces political siege

Africa's internet freedom faces political siege

While cyber-crime remains a thorn in the side of African states, many governments are also looking to rein in the growing civic space, facilitated by the internet, and used to galvanise public response.

This is according to the State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2017 report launched last week at the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2017 event held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"Unfortunately, where states and internet intermediaries have attempted to respond to these challenges, they have often undermined citizens' rights to free expression, privacy and the right of access to information," notes the report.

Lead researcher at CIPESA (Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa), Victor Kapiyor, said, "One of the things that we realised is the level of political importance within our countries, and one of the things that came out was the significant level of influence that political environments have on internet freedom.

"Our governments are realising that there are new spaces online where people are organising, and spaces where they can access all the information about all those seeking power. The challenge is that sometimes they do not understand how to get the individual, so it becomes easier to shut down the intermediaries."

The report examined the legal, policy, institutional and practical landscape in Africa that affects internet freedom and focused on Botswana, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

It sought to identify the in-country approaches to intermediary liability, and develop recommendations to reinforce internet freedom.

CIPESA says online intermediaries include internet search engines and portals, internet service providers (ISPs), such as network operators and mobile telecommunications providers, Web hosting providers and social media platforms.

According to the report, intermediaries play a mediating role between producers of content and audiences; however, there have been concerns when intermediaries are liable for the content of others.

CIPESA says officials have sought to control the expanding civic space, facilitated by the internet. "The response by governments include, among others, the arrest, intimidation, prosecution, and detention of critics, the imposition of liability on intermediaries for not complying with information or surveillance requests and censorship of content. Such actions significantly reduce the space for free expression, privacy, and access to information."

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