Togo’s chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC) has called on government leaders to end a blackout of online services that began Tuesday night amid widespread protests against President Faure Gnassingbe.
Norbert Glakpe, an IT professional and president of ISOC in Togo, said it was difficult if not impossible to access Internet, social media or 3G mobile services throughout the country. He said the organization condemned the service cutoff as a violation of human rights that must be protected in the online space with the same vigilance that they are in the physical world.
The ISOC statement noted that government minister Gilbert Barawa publicly acknowledged that the shutdown was intentional, citing security reasons. In comments made during a radio interview in Lomé, Barawa said it should not be a surprise that the state had implemented controls on communication, and compared it with similar practices in France and the United States.
That same interview was cited by Koffi Inoussa Hayibo, the president of Internet Without Borders in Togo. Hayibo said in a statement that the organization urges the Togolese authorities “ensure a balance between the protection of freedoms, expression, and the preservation of public order.”
The global Internet Society, based in Switzerland and the United States, said it was concerned about the reports from Togo and monitoring developments.
The protests in Togo began in August as opposition political leader Tikpi Atchadam and his Parti National Panafricain (PNP) called on the Togolese to unite in favor of democratically conducted elections. The country has been led by the current president since 2005, after he followed in the footsteps of a father who ruled from 1967 until his death. Thousands have taken to the streets to demand his resignation.
After 50 years of the dynasty, the opposition leaders say they want term limits enforced by constitution and a government that ensures human rights. The human rights situation in the small West African nation, home to some seven million people, is described by Amnesty International Togo Director Aime Adi as fragile.
The protests have forced legislators to quickly prepare a draft bill that would establish a two-year term limit.