The ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja has restrained the Federal Government from imposing sanctions or harassing, intimidating, arresting, or prosecuting Twitter users.
This follows the filing of a lawsuit at the ECOWAS court by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians against the Federal Government over the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalization of Nigerians and other people using Twitter.
The lawsuit also includes the escalating repression of human rights, particularly the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the country.
The court in its order, restricted the government from carrying out such actions against any other social media service provider, as well as media houses, pending the hearing and determination of a suit challenging the government’s suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria.
In the suit, the applicants argued that the suspension of Twitter by the Nigerian government was illegal.
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The court gave the restraining order after hearing arguments from parties in a suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians.
Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, represented the plaintiffs while a legal practitioner, Maimuna Shiru, represented the government.
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Falana said that contrary to the assurance credited to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN that violators of the Twitter would not be prosecuted, the Federal Government filed processes in the ECOWAS Court threatening to prosecute Nigerians using Twitter for violating the suspension under the provisions of the Penal Code relating to sedition.
What the ECOWAS court said in its order
The court said that the interference with Twitter is a violation of human rights urging the Nigerian government to take immediate steps to implement the order.
It stressed the need to hear the matter as soon as possible and adjourned until July 6, 2021, for the hearing of the substantive suit.
The arguments by the plaintiffs
In the lawsuit, the applicants argued that the suspension of Twitter by the Federal Government and criminalisation of Nigerians and others using the social media platform has escalated repression of human rights and unlawfully restricted the rights of citizens and others to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the country.
The plaintiffs, in the suit marked ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21, sought an order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government from implementing its suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and subjecting anyone, including media houses and broadcast stations using Twitter in Nigeria to harassment, intimidation, arrest, and criminal prosecution, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.
If this application is not urgently granted, the Federal Government will continue to arbitrarily suspend Twitter and threaten to impose criminal and other sanctions on Nigerians, telecommunication companies, media houses, broadcast stations, and other people using Twitter in Nigeria, the perpetual order sought in this suit might be rendered nugatory.
The suspension of Twitter is aimed at intimidating and stopping Nigerians from using Twitter and other social media platforms to assess government policies, expose corruption, and criticize acts of official impunity by the agents of the Federal Government.
What you should know
The Federal Government had a few weeks ago, suspended the operations of Twitter indefinitely in the country citing double standards by the microblogging and social media platform, and the persistent use of the platform for activities that were capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.
The suspension was announced, days after Twitter deleted a post by President Muhammadu Buhari for allegedly violating its policy.
Subsequently, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) ordered television and radio stations to suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately.