- The Washington Times - Friday, July 1, 2016

Attempts to restrict access to the internet must be internationally condemned, the United Nations Human Rights Council said Friday.

A non-binding resolution passed Friday morning by the UNHRC’s 47 member-states calls for the international community to reject efforts aimed at blocking internet access, and reaffirms previous resolutions that state “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression.”

Although the council has previously advocated for extending human rights into the digital sphere with resolutions passed in 2012 and 2014, this week’s measure marks the first time that the group has officially spoken up against online censorship.

The resolution specifically “[c]ondemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law and calls on all States to refrain from and cease such measure.”

At least 15 internet shutdowns occurred during 2015, and Algerian authorities’ decision last month to temporarily block access to social media services including Twitter and Facebook over allegations of academic cheating helped the number of shutdowns so far this year climb to 20, according to Access Now, a digital rights group that applauded the passage of the resolution Friday.

“This resolution marks a major milestone in the fight against internet shutdowns. The international community has listened to the voices of civil society — many of whom have suffered under shutdowns themselves — and laudably pushed back on this pernicious practice,” said Deji Olukotun, a senior global advocacy manager at Access Now.

“Shutdowns harm everyone and allow human rights crackdowns to happen in the dark, with impunity. Citizens can’t participate fully in democratic discourse during elections. The Human Rights Council’s principled stance is a crucial step in telling the world that shutdowns need to stop,” he said.

The resolution passed by consensus is intended to bolster “the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet,” and was proposed to the council by representatives from the United States, Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia and Turkey.

In spite of Ankara’s involvement, however, Turkey has repeatedly been condemned as of late for routinely restricting internet access within its borders. Freedom House, a U.S.-based NGO, recently said that “internet freedom is highly imperiled in Turkey.” This week, meanwhile, Turkish officials reportedly block social media services following the terror attack Tuesday in Istanbul.

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