ECOWAS Court Restrains FG From Prosecuting Twitter Users in Nigeria

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The ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja has restrained the Federal Government from prosecuting anyone using social networking site, Twitter and any other social media platforms.

The court , while granting an interim injunction on a suit filed by the Socio-Econimc Rights and Accountability Project and 176 concerned Nigerians, said no one must be harassed, arrested or prosecuted for using the platform pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.

SERAP had filed a suit against the Federal Government following the threat by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, to prosecute those bypassing the ban imposed on Twitter.

Nigerians have been using Virtual Private Network to reconnect to Twitter following the suspension of the platform’s operation in Nigeria.

Malami however threatened to prosecute anyone bypassing the ban.

In its suit, the SERAP argued that “the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalization of Nigerians and other people using Twitter have escalated repression of human rights and unlawfully restricted the rights of Nigerians and other people to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the country.”

After hearing arguments from Solicitor to SERAP, Femi Falana, SAN, and lawyer to the government Maimuna Shiru, the court ruled that “any interference with Twitter is viewed as inference 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,” it added.

Reacting to the ruling, Falana said the ECOWAS court’s intervention was “a timely relief for millions of Nigerians using Twitter who have been threatened with prosecution under the provision of the Penal Code relating to sedition.”

He added; “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.

“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.”