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Twitter ban: CSOs, journalists sue Nigerian government at ECOWAS court

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FIVE civil society organisations (CSOs) and four journalists have filed a suit against the Nigerian government at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice in Abuja over the suspension of the operations of microblogging platform, Twitter, in the country.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the action taken by the Nigerian government as a violation of their human rights under the international law.

They are also asking the court to order the government to immediately reverse the suspension and compensate them for the violation of their rights.

The CSOs involved in the suit are 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). The journalists are David Hundeyin, Samuel Ogundipe, Blessing Oladunjoye, and Nwakamri Zakari Apollo.

The suit numbered ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21 ECW/CCJ/APP/29/21 was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by an Abuja-based human rights and free expression lawyer,  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 plaintiffs, in their originating summons, said the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria on June 4 violated their right to freedom of expression and interfered with the ability of the journalists to do their work.

The CSOs and journalists also told the court that freedom of expression was being stifled in Nigeria.

They further argued that Nigeria, having consented to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression under the ICCPR and the ACHPR, any limitation imposed by the government on the right to freedom of expression could only be justifiable where the restriction was provided by law, served a legitimate aim, and was necessary and proportionate in a democratic society.

Contending that these three conditions must be met before any restriction on the right to freedom of expression could be considered legitimate, they noted that the suspension of Twitter was not provided by law, adding that there was no justification for it under Nigeria’s domestic laws and that it was done by the government in an arbitrary manner in circumstances where there was no public or judicial oversight, transparency or accountability.

The CSOs and journalists are asking the court to declare the indefinite suspension of Twitter a continuous violation of their human rights under the international law, particularly the right to seek and receive information as well as the right to express and disseminate opinions, as provided  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 are also seeking a declaration that the government’s directive, through the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), for the deactivation of Twitter accounts in Nigeria violated their human rights under the international law and that the threat by the attorney-general of the federation to prosecute anybody found to be using Twitter in Nigeria following the suspension of the platform also violated their rights.

The CSOs and the journalists urged the court to issue orders mandating the Nigerian government to immediately take all necessary measures to reverse the suspension and guarantee that the same violation would not occur again in future.

They also asked the government to issue adequate reparations, including restitution, compensation and measures of satisfaction to be specified and submitted to the court.

The court was also asked to issue an order of injunction restraining the government, its servants and agents from imposing criminal sanctions on individuals, including the applicants, using Twitter or any other social media service provider.

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

The suit is supported by Media Defence, a London-based civil society organisation which provides legal assistance to journalists, citizen journalists and the independent media.

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