On the occasion of the 2019 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, the Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) condemned the alarming trend of media censorship by state authorities in Nigeria.
In a statement issued on November 2, 2019, the group observed that public officers and influential individuals are increasingly intolerant of critical reporting and fair comments by journalists. The attackers, it said, resort to the use of instruments of state criminal justice system to suppress freedom of expression and free press.
CWPPF said from January 2019 till date, it recorded 71 cases of attacks on the media, including arrests, intimidation, detention and killings. The coalition said it totally condemns this abuse of power by state actors and security agencies.
It cited Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution and several international instruments acceded to by Nigeria which guarantee the right to press freedom for the media to exercise their statutory duties.
CWPPF pointed out that the right of citizens to freedom of expression, to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any medium, is guaranteed by Articles 19 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
According to the group, “the flagrant disobedience of court orders and the charges of treason, terrorism and cybercrimes against citizens by Federal and State Governments set a dangerous precedent in the misuse of the state criminal justice system to silence free expression. In recent times, the Federal Government has charged journalists, including Jones Abiri and Omoyele Sowore, with treason and terrorism for engaging in social activism and practising Journalism. This is unacceptable. As if taking a cue from the federal government, the governors of Cross River, Kaduna and Kano States have followed this trend by charging Agba Jalingo, Chidi Odinkalu and Nazir Ahmad respectively with obnoxious and strange offences of terrorism, cybercrime and criminal defamation.”
CWPPF said furthermore that some sections of the Judiciary, as a consequence of its lack of independence, have become willing tools in the hands of state and federal governments by granting judicial approvals that stifle free speech. It disclosed that they do this through the demand for onerous bail conditions and unconventional trial procedures in criminal charges against journalists and other citizens, saying this also contributes, in no small measure, to the validation of human rights abuses by the State.
The group called on Nigeria to take steps to amend or repeal oppressive provisions of the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Act 2015, particularly Sections 24 and 25, and other laws, which violate international and regional treaties on human rights to which Nigeria is a state party as well as Section 1(3) and 39 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
It warned that: “The government’s declared intention to regulate citizens’ use and access to social media and the civic space must not be in conflict with or constitute a breach of existing laws pertaining freedom of speech and association.”
The group called on media stakeholders and the civil society to continue to harp on the inviolability of Section 22 of the Nigerian Constitution, which accords the media the role of holding government accountable to the people.
It said the campaign for free press must be sustained by the media and civil society to ensure that public officials fully guarantee that journalists, bloggers, broadcasters, social media users and all media practitioners are allowed to carry out their work without any form of intimidation and persecution.
Government, it added, must also take concrete measures to respect, protect and ensure the effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom.
It encouraged media practitioners to be proactive in the defence and protection of media freedom saying they must engage in advocacy and public enlightenment while also holding regular public hearings into allegations of harassment and attacks on journalists, bloggers, broadcasters, social media users and all media practitioners’ right to freedom of expression.
The group called on the African Union, regional and sub-regional bodies and the international community to prevail on state authorities in Nigeria to abide by their obligation to respect media freedom, citizen’s freedom of expression and enable the growth of a free and vibrant press in Nigeria.
Freedom of expression, it pointed out, is critical to the sustenance of democracy and the advancement of an orderly, informed and progressive society, adding it is prepared to defend the interest of citizens and organisations whose rights are violated in the exercise of freedom of expression.
The Coalition for Whistleblowers Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) is a coalition of Nigerian news organisations and civil society organisations committed to advocacy for press freedom.