A project of Freedom on the Net

Elections and internet censorship often go hand in hand. As citizens head to the polls, repressive governments limit access to information, and in the most extreme cases, cut off internet service entirely. Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net project has estimated the risk of restrictions on internet freedom during upcoming elections in selected countries.

Americas

  • Brazil

    October 2018

    General Election

    Medium Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • The Electoral Act limits publication of content deemed “injurious” to candidates during electoral periods. In 2014, the law was used to justify almost 200 lawsuits and numerous content removal requests.
    • Intimidation and violence against online journalists and bloggers threaten freedom of expression. Those exposing local corruption scandals are especially at risk.
    Read more about internet freedom in Brazil.
  • United States

    November 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    Low Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Free

    Analysis

    • With a third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives up for election, in addition to state and local offices, the online sphere could again become a partisan battleground.
    • While the internet in the United States remains vibrant and diverse, the 2016 election campaign featured a wave of online disinformation.
    • Concerns over Russian cyberespionage and electoral interference may reemerge in light of cyberattacks that struck U.S. political organizations in 2016.
    Read more about internet freedom in United States.

Asia-Pacific

Monitor Election Gauge Legend
  • Bangladesh

    January 2019

    Parliamentary Elections

    Medium Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • The government blocked some news sites with ties to the opposition in 2016.
    • Dozens of users have been charged for criticizing companies, individuals, or political figures, though prison sentences are rare.
    • Religious extremists have killed bloggers with secular views. 
    Read more about internet freedom in Bangladesh.
  • Cambodia

    July 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    Restrictions on internet freedom run a high risk of intensifying around the July 29 elections, as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party seeks to retain its 40-year grip on power.

    • Censorship: The government ramped up restrictions on digital media starting in 2016. Authorities recently released a list of controversial guidelines for journalists covering the elections and passed a directive to penalize those accused of posting “fake news” online with up to five years in prison.
    • Arrests: Opposition politicians have been charged and jailed for content posted on Facebook. Cambodia’s recently implemented lèse-majesté law is an additional avenue for arrests based on legitimate online activity.
    • Harassment: Political activists, opposition members, and civil society organizations also face cyberattacks and smear campaigns.
    Read more about internet freedom in Cambodia.
  • Pakistan

    July 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    Medium Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Not Free

    Analysis

    • Political parties campaign vigorously online, but regulators recently blocked one party’s website for carrying allegedly anti-Pakistan views.
    • Authorities frequently impose brief shutdowns of internet service on security grounds.
    • Other threats to internet freedom could increase, including physical attacks and criminal charges in reprisal for digital speech involving religion or government officials.
    Read more about internet freedom in Pakistan.
  • Thailand

    February 2019

    Parliamentary Elections

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Not Free

    Analysis

    • The military government has postponed elections since seizing power in a 2014 coup, while increasing censorship and imposing long criminal sentences for online speech.
    • Online discussion of a 2016 constitutional referendum was heavily restricted, boding ill for the upcoming parliamentary vote. 
    Read more about internet freedom in Thailand.

Eurasia

Monitor Election Gauge Legend
  • Georgia

    October 2018

    Presidential Election

    Low Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Free

    Analysis

    • The online media environment is free and unrestricted, though some news outlets have a strong partisan bias.
    • The 2016 parliamentary elections were deemed largely free and fair, with no curbs on internet freedom. 
    Read more about internet freedom in Georgia.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Monitor Election Gauge Legend
  • Zimbabwe

    By July 2018

    General Election

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    There is a high risk of further internet restrictions around Zimbabwe’s July 30 elections, the first since the end of Robert Mugabe’s 30-year presidency.

    • Shutdowns: Access to WhatsApp was disabled during antigovernment protests in July 2016. After service was unblocked, the government temporarily hiked the cost of mobile data plans by 500 percent to limit civic organizing.
    • Arrests: Individuals have been routinely arrested for expressing political opinions online, including a pastor for criticizing the government over fuel shortages on Facebook, and at least four people for posting “falsehoods or hate speech” on social media.
    • Cyberattacks: Voter information held by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission was reportedly taken by hackers in July and published online. Around the same time, Zimbabweans received unsolicited texts from the ruling ZANU-PF party.
    • Fake News: ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC have used social media to attack one another and to share misleading images. Fake news has also been employed to question the integrity of the electoral commission.
    Read more about internet freedom in Zimbabwe.

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