MLDI and Veritas Law bring case before the Constitutional Council of Cameroon challenging Internet shutdown
On 8 May, the Constitutional Council of Cameroon will begin hearing a case that challenges the government's decision to shut the Internet down in the South West and North West of the country. The Internet was shut down on 18 January following protests against the arrest of civil society leaders resisting government efforts to impose the Francophone legal and education systems in these predominantly Anglophone regions.
The case that has been brought highlights that open and accessible internet communications are essential to ensuring the right to freedom of expression. Disruption of online services, whether through website blocking or internet shutdowns, amounts to a serious violation of that fundamental right. The government of Cameroon is obliged under domestic and international legal obligations to protect freedom of expression, including ensuring that it remains accessible and that people are able to use it freely and without interference.
On 20 April, hours after the constitutional challenge was filed by Veritas Law, with the assistance of MLDI, at the Constitutional Council, the Internet was turned back on following an order by the President of Cameroon. The blackout lasted 93 days. Throughout the shutdown, the lives of the people living in the region were severely affected. In economic terms, the shutdown has been estimated by human rights organisations to have cost Cameroon around $1.4 million. The cost in social, cultural, health and educational terms has also been high. Even though the Internet has now been restored there is no guarantee the government will not shut it down again. The constitutional challenge was brought to compel the government to restore the Internet, and so that the Constitutional Council could prevent the government from shutting the internet down in the future.