WITNESS is engaging in a global campaign to raise awareness around Internet Shutdowns and to provide practical documentation resources for activists impacted by these issues. Learn more. The main image of the blog uses a picture from the user 14ymedio.

In just the first five months of 2021, Access Now documented 50 internet blackouts in 21 countries. According to the Jigsaw platform, these outages, both full and partial, are implemented through local ISPs using six main methods: throttling, IP blocking, mobile data shutoffs, DNS interference, server name identification blocking and deep packet inspection. Access Now asserts that internet blackouts not only threaten people’s lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, they also block protests and hinder social organization.

Here’s how our Latin America and the Caribbean team is tackling this pressing issue:

WITNESS’ #EyesOnShutdowns Global Campaign will look at how to better prepare to record human rights violations on video during internet blackouts in the Latin American region. Additionally, we will illustrate how the “content moderation” of the most popular social media platforms has also aided governments seeking to stifle dissident voices and inhibit evidence of serious violations from coming to light.

Homeland and life!

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the most recent internet blackouts were in Cuba from July 11 to 17, 2021, as thousands of people protested in the streets. According to Agencia EFE, the demonstrations in Cuba gained strength after images of the inhabitants of San Antonio de los Baños were broadcast protesting in the streets due to the lack of food, medicine, electricity cuts and the serious economic and health crisis.

Resource: Documenting excessive force during COVID19 restrictions on movement

The government responded to the protests with arbitrary arrests, internet shutdowns, and excessive use of force. People who sought to amplify the demands during the demonstrations were challenged by disruptions in service for phones and internet, as well as the blocking of major social platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Telegram. Authorities also confiscated the equipment of journalists.

Blocking, restricting, confiscating … All of this was done to hinder the transmission of images and the amplification of revolutionary voices.

Tweet posted by Temblores NGO

“If people go out to protest in the middle of a pandemic, it is because the government is more dangerous than the virus.”

During April and May 2021, Colombia experienced a National Strike in response to the tax reform presented by the government of President Iván Duque that aimed at increasing taxes on income and basic products. Videos of demonstrations counteracted the stigmatization of the protest, which was an attempt to validate the violent responses of the State. The videos, in addition to giving an account of the serious violations committed by the public forces, also showed us the diversity of faces on the frontlines of the National Strike and the resistance actions of the Colombian population. The live broadcasts took us to the demonstrations, as well as to the community pots (soup kitchens), to resistance festivals.

Self-protection manual against ESMAD from 070

Those who participated in the demonstrations showed us several key practices for the strategic use of video as evidence. Livestreamings and videos shared on platforms like Facebook and Instagram showed people incorporating important learnings that build on our key guidance:

→ People saying or even shouting the location, date and time of the recording.

→ If you are a witness of an arbitrary detention, ask the person to shout their name and identification number while recording to capture it on video

→ If you are recording during a protest, avoid recording faces or elements that can identify a person

→ If you record the police, film the attacks and details such as license plates, patrol cars and tanks

Guns against cell phones

Download Fundación Karisma’s report here

In the report “Guns against cell phones”, Fundación Karisma narrates the problems with the internet service that occurred on May 4, 2021 in Cali and that were confirmed by Netblocks. This complaint was particularly relevant due to the strong military presence. That night, the police violence allegedly murdered three young men with a firearm in the district of Siloé, a place where internet cuts were also reported.

In the Colombian city of Cali, between May 4 and 5, problems were reported through Twitter. It was indicated that live streamings of the protests and the clashes were deleted, and the data plans of the people were not working correctly, and it was very difficult to connect to social networks. People pointed out that cuts prevented uploading and even accessing content on the internet. According to Netblocks, during the National Strike, on two occasions connectivity decreased by up to 25% in Cali.

Faced with these obstacles, it is important to prepare. The first line of defense in Latin America is  resisting internet blackouts through learning and sharing key strategies. In a next blog, we will talk more about how communities circumvent censorship on social media platforms. For now, reference these resources to prepare to document under these conditions:

Join the campaign now!

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