Nigerian Government cannot arrest or prosecute citizens using Twitter following the suspension of the microblogging site in the country, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday, June 22.
The ruling followed the June 8-suit filed against the government by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians over “the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria and criminalisation of Nigerians and other people using Twitter.”
Nigerian Government, on Friday, June 4, 2021, banned Twitter operations, days after the site deleted a divisive tweet by Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, that threatened to punish suspected secessionists fomenting attacks in the Southeast. Twitter said the tweet violated its rules.
Following the ban, Abubakar Malami, the Nigerian Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, on June 5, ordered that those who defied the directive be prosecuted.
SERAP then sued the government for escalating the repression of human rights and freedom of expression, including access to information, and media freedom in the country.
Ruling in favour of the advocacy group’s injunction, the West African Court restrained the government from subjecting anyone including media houses, broadcast stations using Twitter in Nigeria, to harassment, intimidation, arrest and criminal prosecution.
“The court has listened very well to the objection by Nigeria. Any interference with Twitter is viewed as inference with human rights, and that will violate human rights,” SERAP quoted the court order as saying, in a statement on its Twitter account.
“The court also hereby orders that the application be heard expeditiously. The Nigerian government must take immediate steps to implement the order.”
Reacting to the ruling, Femi Falana, SERAP’s counsel said the intervention of the ECOWAS Court was a timely relief to Nigerians using Twitter who have been threatened with prosecution under the provision of the Penal Code relating to sedition.
“It is extremely embarrassing that the Federal Government could threaten to jail Nigerians for sedition, which was annulled by the Court of Appeal in 1983, in the case of Arthur Nwankwo vs The State,” Falana said in the statement.
According to the statement, the court order would be followed by a substantive ruling to overturn the Twitter ban in Nigeria.
The substantive suit was adjourned to July 6 for hearing.
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