The ECOWAS Court of Justice on Tuesday ordered the Nigerian government “to refrain from imposing sanction on any media house or harassing, intimidating, arresting and prosecuting” Nigerians for the use of Twitter and other social media platforms, pending its determination of a substantive suit filed by NGOs challenging the ban.
The order comes as a result of the Nigerian governemnt’s suspension of Twitter after the platform had removed a post from Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists, which Twitter said violated its rules. Nigerian Attorney General Abubakar Malami went even further, directing the immediate prosecution of offenders of the Federal Government ban on Twitter operations in Nigeria.
In response, the trustees of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a local rights group, as well as 176 other Nigerians, applied to the court for interim measures against the ban, seeking “An order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government from implementing its suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and subjecting anyone including media houses, broadcast stations using Twitter in Nigeria, to harassment, intimidation, arrest and criminal prosecution, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.”
The ECOWAS Court, exercising its power under Article 79 of the Rules of Procedure of the Court, granted the measure, holding that it: recognizes that access to Twitter provides a platform for the exercise of freedom of expression and any interference with the access will be viewed as an interference with the right to freedom of expression.
By extension, such interference will amount to a violation of a fundamental human right which falls within the competence of this Court pursuant to Article 9 (4) of the Supplementary Protocol (A/SP.1/01/05) Amending Protocol (A/P1/7/91) relating to the Community Court of Justice.
While the court’s decision prevents the Nigerian government from prosecuting and targeting individuals for their use of Twitter, it refused to order the Nigerian government to lift the suspension on the use of Twitter, pending its determination of the substantive suit.
The suspension is currently being challenged by the NGO Media Rights Agenda and the eight other journalists who are claiming that the suspension of Twitter has affected the performance of their professional duties and general access to vital news/information, and that the suspension was an arbitrary act without justification under law as it interfered with their right to seek, receive and impart information which is protected under several Human rights instruments, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the ECOWAS Revised Treaty.
Below is a copy of the judgement as ruled by ECOWAS Court