Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has petitioned Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression to press the Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Nigerian Senate to withdraw a bill which “aims to undermine constitutionally and internationally recognized media freedom in the country”.
The Senate had passed the bill for second reading despite subsisting court case and strong opposition to it.
In a petition signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale, the organization said criminalising media freedom would not only violate the rights of journalists and media practitioners to carry out their legitimate work but undermine the ability of Nigerians and others in the country to be informed on events of critical importance and participate in the governance process.
“The bill would escalate the growing threats and attacks on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom and have a powerful chilling effect across the country.
“The proposed bill by the Senate is a major threat to media independence and diversity in the country and shows lack of understanding of the essential role of independent media in the sustainability of the country’s democratic dispensation. SERAP believes that a free and independent media would facilitate public participation, governmental accountability and improve democratic institutions.”
The petition copied to Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, reads in part: “The bill by the Senate also stems in part from increasingly irresponsible framing of journalists as ‘enemies’ by political leaders and aims at stifling public debate of issues such as allegations of corruption in the Senate and investigative reporting in the public interest.
“The bill would also restrict the free flow of information and ideas, which is one of the most powerful ways of combating corruption and holding public officials including lawmakers accountable.
“Despite strong opposition from media practitioners to the bill, the Senate of Nigeria is pushing hard to accelerate the passage of this obnoxious bill, which has already passed the second reading.
“SERAP is concerned that if passed into law the bill would contravene Nigeria’s international legal obligations, including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.”
SERAP therefore requested the Special Rapporteur to: Publicly express concerns about the proposed bill and insist that the Senate of Nigeria should immediately withdraw the bill;
“Urge the Senate President and the leadership of the Senate of Nigeria to allow the right to freedom of expression and media freedom without fear of criminal prosecution, and not to contemplate impermissible restrictions to these constitutionally and internationally recognized freedoms;
“Urge the Senate President and the leadership of the Senate of Nigeria to show commitment to the fundamental right of all to free and unhindered access to information;
“Urge the Senate President and the leadership of the Senate of Nigeria to take steps to end all initiatives to use flawed legislation to restrict media freedom ahead of the 2019 general elections”.