ImpACT joins 28 human rights groups to call for end to bans on free internet calling during COVID-19 pandemic—and always

London—ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies is among 29 civil society organisations that have signed a joint statement urging the governments of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Qatar to permanently lift their bans on WhatsApp, FaceTime, Skype and other Voice Over IP (VoIP) platforms used to make free voice and video internet calls. We want the prohibitions lifted for good, but the action is especially critical during the global COVID-19 pandemic, when expatriate workers and international students are far away from and worried about their families.

We want the prohibitions lifted for good, but the action is especially critical during the global COVID-19 pandemic

While the UAE and Oman recently unblocked Skype for Business, Zoom and other apps on an “exceptional” and temporary basis in response to the spread of COVID-19, other popular communication apps such as WhatsApp, Skype and FaceTime remain blocked.

“Gulf governments must allow open and free-of-charge communication between the many internationals within their borders and their family and friends during this stressful time,” says Sarah Burashed, ImpACT’s campaign coordinator. “But family ties are always important, so we urge these governments to show true leadership and a commitment to public service by making these actions permanent. Public trust in their governments is absolutely critical in a time when so much is changing so fast.”

Free video and voice calls are often the only way foreign workers and international students can stay connected to their families and employers. Yet bans on free calling and messaging platforms continue to be widespread, particularly in Gulf countries. With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the ban is likely to aggravate panic and uncertainty amongst these usually low-income labourers and students.   

Since many British nationals work in the Gulf, ImpACT International also has contacted British politicians and parliamentarians, urging them to call on Gulf governments to lift their bans on free internet call and video services. Among those who have joined the campaign are Sammy Wilson, Lord Hylton and Baroness Harris of Richmond.

 

Signatories:

Access Now

L’Association Francophone pour les Droits de l’Homme 

Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Centre for Media Research – CRM-Nepal

Center for Migrant Advocacy

Democratic Transition & Human Rights Support Center (DAAM)

Digital Rights Foundation

Equidem

Equidem Nepal

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor

Gulf Centre for Human Rights

Human Rights Watch

ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies

Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan

International Service For Human Rights (ISHR)

Iraqi Network for Social Media (INSM)

Media Foundation for West Africa

Media Matters for Democracy

MENA Rights Group

Metro Center For Journalists Rights & Advocacy

Migrant-Rights.org

Namibia Media Trust

Rights and Security International 

Paradigm Initiative 

SMEX

The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)

The Omani Centre for Human Rights (OCHR-Oman)

Unwanted Witness Uganda

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