SERAP wants special court to handle cases of free speech, other rights abuses

COURT symbol used to illustrate the story.
COURT symbol used to illustrate the story.

The Socio-Economic and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called for the establishment of a special human rights court to be vested with the mandate of ensuring strict adherence to fundamental rights in Nigeria.

The civil society organisation said the court would step in “when there is a breach of, or a likely breach of the fundamental rights of the people, which includes the right to freedom of expression as provided in the Constitution.”

SERAP stated this at the launch of its latest report on media attacks in Nigeria in Lagos on Wednesday.

The group also asked the Nigerian government to make a public condemnation of all media attacks and issue clear public statements to government and security agencies prohibiting attacks on the media.

It also demanded an amendment of the Cybercrime Act to align with the rights to freedom of expression as enshrined in Nigeria’s Constitution and international laws among others.

The report titled: “A Downward Spiral: How Federal and State Authorities are Tightening the Screws on Media Freedom in Nigeria,” highlights the various attacks on the media and general freedom of expression from the inception of military regime in Nigeria to date.

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The report also included information from the Press Attack Tracker (PAT) organised by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Reporting (PTCIJ), which noted that at least 36 Nigerian journalists were attacked between January and July 2019 alone, with 30 of the attacks recorded during the general elections.

The figure noted for these attacks in the first half of 2019 was nearly equal to the record of media attacks by PAT in 2017 and 2018, according to the report.

It said 21 media attacks were recorded in 2018 and 16 in 2017. Also, 44 broadcast stations were sanctioned during the first half of 2019, the report said.

Some of the attacks from 2010 to 2015 cited in the report include the raid of the Nation’s Newspaper, Lagos office in October 2011 by officers of the Nigerian Police who arrested four journalists, namely: Yusuf Ali, Lawal Ogianegbon, Dapo Olufade, Dupe Olaoye-Osinkolu and the paper’s in-house lawyer, Johnson Unachukwu, following a directive by the then Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, who requested the arrest of the journalists over a report at the time.

Other cases cited in the report include an attack on several journalists in Ibadan by the police on March 13, 2012, the arrest of Iyatse Joshua of the City FM radio station on February 18, 2012 as well as similar attacks on Daily Trust and its reporter, Misbahu Bashir, who was denied access to the Aguiyi Ironsi Brigade in Abuja that February.

There were similar attacks on reporters with The Nation, ThisDay, The Punch The Guardian and Tribune newspapers who were also forced out of a hospital in northern Kaduna that same February while reporting an attack by the governor’s guards on staff the information ministry.

Several other attacks that year and in 2013 and 2014 were also noted in the report.

SERAP condemned the use of section 24 and 25 of the Cybercrime Act by security officials in arrest of journalists and asked the federal government through the National Assembly to “proactively protect media freedom by amending and /or repealing the obnoxious sections of the cybercrime prohibition prevention act, 2015 which violates all international and National Treaties on human rights and to which Nigeria is a state party.”

The report also urged the ministry of information to ensure that regulatory agencies for the media, including the National Broadcasting Commission, are independent and that they promote self-regulation of the media

The report also noted the poor remuneration of media professionals in the country, adding that many journalists earn between $55 to $138 monthly.

It said some media houses dethrone professionalism and violate extant laws regulating the practice of the profession, thereby compounding the problem.

The report urged International organisations like the United Nations, African Union and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights to struggle for safeguarding the media by making public statements against cases of media attacks and seeking to investigate allegations of media attacks with a view to guide international action against perpetrators of such attacks.

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