Five non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and four journalists have filed a suit against the Federal Government at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice in Abuja, seeking the immediate withdrawal of the suspension of the social media platform, Twitter, in Nigeria.
The organisations and journalists asked the court to declare the indefinite suspension of the platform, a violation of their human rights under international law, and to order the government to rescind the suspension order, and compensate them for the violation of their rights.
The NGO applicants in the suit are the Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Paradigm Initiative (PIN), Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ), the International Press Centre (IPC), and Tap Initiative for Citizens Development (TICD) while the journalists are Mr. David Hundeyin, Mr. Samuel Ogundipe, Ms. Blessing Oladunjoye, and Mr. Nwakamri Zakari Apollo.
The suit, lodged with number ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21 ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21, was filed on their behalf by Abuja-based human rights and free expression lawyer, Mrs. Mojirayo Ogunlana Nkanga, under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, and the Nigerian Constitution, among others.
The applicants claimed that the suspension of Twitter, which came into effect on June 4, violated their right to freedom of expression and interfered with the ability of the journalists to do their work.
Also, the NGOs and journalists alleged that the general situation in the country with respect to human rights has created an environment where freedom of expression is stifled, which has contributed to creating a chilling effect on press and media freedom.
According to them, Nigeria had consented to be bound by the obligation to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression under the ICCPR and the ACHPR, noting that any limitation imposed by the government on the right to freedom of expression can only be justifiable where the restriction is provided by law, serves a legitimate aim, and is necessary and proportionate in a democratic society.
Arguing that the conditions must all be met before any restriction on the right to freedom of expression can be considered legitimate, they noted that the suspension is not provided by law, as there is no justification for it under Nigeria’s domestic laws, and was arbitrarily imposed by the government, in circumstances where there was no public or judicial oversight, transparency or accountability.
The NGOs and journalists asked the Court to declare the indefinite suspension of Twitter a continuous violation of their human rights under international law, particularly the right to seek and receive information as well as the right to express and disseminate opinions under Article 9(1) and (2) of the African Charter; Article 19(2) of the ICCPR and the rights of journalists under Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty.
They also seek a declaration that the government’s directive, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), for the deactivation of Twitter accounts and the threat by the Attorney-General of the Federation to criminally prosecute anybody found to be using the platform in Nigeria following its suspension, also violates their human rights under international law.
The NGOs and the journalists urged the court to issue orders mandating the government to immediately take the necessary measures to withdraw Twitter’s suspension in the country; and guarantee non-recurrence, as well as to issue an order of injunction restraining the government, and its agents from imposing criminal sanctions on individuals, including the applicants, who use Twitter or any other social media service provider.
However, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
The suit is being litigated with the support of Media Defence, a London-based NGO, which provides legal assistance to journalists, citizen journalists, and independent media.
By Victor Uzoho…
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