PUL FROWNS ON INTERNET RESTRICTION

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The Press Union of Liberia insists that it is shocking that the CDC-led government would opt to block internet platforms during a peaceful & lawful citizens’ assembly in contrast to its professed commitment to free expression.

To uprightly restrict access to the internet for whatever reasons especially during a peaceful protest on June 7 was a deliberate attacked on free expression and access to information, the Union stresses.

Access to Internet is intertwine with the right to the freedom of the press and speech which are at the fulcrum of the universal free expression campaign led by the United Nations and other international organizations.

Only authoritarian regimes are found of blocking and restricting access to internet especially amidst mass citizens’ action or petition of their government, the PUL notes. The PUL says it is appalling that the Weah led government is fast following the path of North Korea, Iran, Egypt and other notorious regimes to limit the use of the internet as a rallying point for criticism of its governance.

Jittery governments view the internet’s power as the crust for the removal of a government’s control of information. The Internet provides a platform for any individual to publish and have access to alternate information avoid of ‘government official’ version; this is exactly while Friday’s restrictions was worrisome, the PUL asserts.

The PUL says it is concern that the CDC-led government is now treading the path of intolerance to dissent and double standards toward free expression – decriminalizing defamation and at the same time blocking access to information.

NetBlocks the internet monitoring organization announced Friday that platforms including WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook were blocked “to subdue the protests”. While the cut-off didn’t impact all providers, restrictions affected mobile internet provider Orange Liberia and internet service provider Lonestar Cell MTN. The social media shutdown has been confirmed by assessing user measurements in the Liberian capital done in partnership with the digital advocacy collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa.

The Press Union of Liberia congratulates NetBlocks and members in its network for the excellent tracking of attacks on free expression and agrees with the group’s Director Alp Toker that the blockage “is an affront to free expression and it stifles the right of Monrovians to assemble and criticize leaders.

This latest action of the Weah Administration erodes recent gains made in enabling free expression in Liberia with the decimalization of speech offenses in the country, the Union decried. Liberia now joins the list of African states like Sudan and Algeria who have blocked the internet during anti-government protests.

It was confirmed that social media sites were restricted during the protest in Monrovia, “We are not saying that the protesters were carrying out things detrimental to nation, but the national security apparatus said there were threats to the country and the services were temporarily disrupted and have been restored”, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe.

It is disgusting that state security hierarchy will sanction the blockage of the public square because of an unexplained threat to the country while failing to extract or reject the supposing danger without the shutdown of the international super highway, the Press Union stresses.

Meanwhile, the Press Union of Liberia cautions the Weah led government to end emotional reactions to situations involving civil liberties. President George Manneh Weah on the eve of the June 7 Mass Protest threaten “those that constantly threatening the states, constantly inciting people. I want to be clear, we will not tolerate those kinds of citizens”.

These kinds of pronouncements and subsequent interpretation by a state lawyer who vowed that journalists and ordinary citizens accusing officials of government of being corrupt will be taken to court on first instance undercuts democratic values Liberia has earned of late, the PUL underscored.

Public officials of the Solicitor General’s paygrade, the Union asserts are qualified to understand the doctrine of right to reply as provided by Liberian Law in the absence of court hearing and orders. The Union insists if governance of Liberia will be dramatically reversed, the Journalism Community in Liberia led by the Press Union and all organizations locally and internationally in its network will proportionately respond through the courts to safeguard the role of media.

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