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The ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja has restrained the Federal Government and its operatives from arresting or prosecuting Nigerians who are using Twitter which was suspended in Nigeria two weeks ago.
The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had threatened to arrest and prosecute citizens of Nigeria who were using Virtual Private Network (VPN) to bypass Twitter suspension in the country.
However, Civil Society Organisation, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, and 176 concerned citizens of Nigeria started a suit before the ECOWAS court, arguing that the illegal Twitter suspension in Nigeria, criminalisation of Nigerians and others utilising Twitter had escalated suppression of human rights and illegally restricted Nigerians’ rights and others to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the nation.
SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, declared in a statement that in a landmark ruling on Tuesday, the ECOWAS court restrained the government of President Muhammadu Buhari and its operatives from “unlawfully imposing sanctions or doing anything whatsoever to harass, intimidate, arrest or prosecute Twitter or any other social media service provider, media houses, radio, television broadcast stations, the plaintiffs and other Nigerians who are Twitter users, pending the hearing and determination of this suit.”
The court gave the order following the hearing arguments from Solicitor to SERAP, Femi Falana (SAN), and lawyer to the government Maimuna Shiru.
The ECOWAS court further said, “The court has listened very well to the objection by Nigeria. The court has this to say. Any interference with Twitter is viewed as interference with human rights, and that will violate human rights. Therefore, this court has jurisdiction to hear the case. The court also hereby orders that the application be heard expeditiously. The Nigerian government must take immediate steps to implement the order.”
Responding to the ruling, Falana disclosed that the intervention of the ECOWAS Court is a timely relief for millions of Nigerians utilising Twitter who have been threatened with prosecution under the provision of the Penal Code relating to treason.
The senior advocate argued that, contrary to a later assurance credited to Malami that offenders of the Twitter suspension would not be prosecuted, the FG filed processes in the ECOWAS Court, threatening to prosecute Nigerians utilising Twitter for violating the suspension under the provisions of the Penal Code relating to treason.
Falana said, “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.”
The substantial suit has been adjourned till July 6, 2021 for hearing.
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