Two civil society organisations — Global Rights and Exploit Initiative to Citizens Development have implemented to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Banjul, the Gambia into invalidating the Twitter ban by the Nigerian authorities as well as any measures or steps taken to implement the ban.
The groups also asked the commission to issue an order directing the federal government to afford just satisfaction to them by way of damages for the losses suffered by them due to the ban.
Further, they requested the commission to hold that Nigeria, by imposing a ban on the use of Twitter has violated Nigerians’ right to freedom of expression as supplied by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Nigeria is a state party to the Charter, having deposited its instrument of ratification of the Charter on 22 July 1983.
The Charter is also a part of Nigeria’s law having been domesticated from the African Charter (Ratification and Enforcement) Act of 1983.
The applicants, therefore, requested the commission to declare that the Twitter ban purchased on June 4, 2021, amounted to an internet shutdown or disturbance incompatible with the charter.
They prayed the commission to announce that the ban and also the threat to prosecute anyone utilizing Twitterviolate Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, 17, 22 and 26 of the charter.
Other reliefs sought from the applicants are a statement that the threat of the national government issued on or about 5 June 2021, to violate all or any users of Twitter within its territory is an abuse of power, which includes a chilling effect on and simplifies the practice of the rights guaranteed in Articles 5, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15 and 17 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
A statement that the order issued from the Respondent State on or about 7 June 2021, to all media houses to deactivate their Twitter handles and quit tweeting violates Articles 9, 10, 11, 13, 16 and 17of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
A statement that the failure of the Respondent State to maintain the courts and keep them open because 6 April 2021, is a denial of the right of their applicants to local treatments and violates Articles 1 and 26 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
A declaration that by reason of the offences aforesaid, the Respondent State is in breach of its obligations under Article 1 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
There are hurdles the applicants must scale prior to the commission can hear their application, one of which is that they must have exhausted local remedies prior to coming to the commission.
To scale those hurdles, the applicants contended that as in the time they filed the communicating, courts in Nigeria were closed as a consequence of the strike embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria.
In accordance with Rule 100 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the applicants insisted that the commission for provisional measures against Nigeria pending the determination of the communication.
Among such measures asked for by the candidates is to get the commission to stop the government from arresting or prosecuting them, their staff, employees or associates or taking any actions to impair their faith on grounds of the usage of Twitter pending the conclusion of the present complaint or the lifting of the ban on Twitter by Nigeria.
They also requested the commission to refer the complaint against Nigeria to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights for determination.
Nigeria deposited with the Commission of the African Union its instrument of ratification of this Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights on 9 June 2004 (hereafter called”the African Court Protocol”.
However, Nigerian citizens cannot file a situation directly in the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, since Nigeria has not made a declaration under Article 34(6) of the African Court’s Protocol requiring the competence of this court to receive cases from people and non-governmental organisations.
However, the applicants claimed the Internet disruptions violated the right to get information and free expression (Article 9(1)-(2)), the right to freedom of association (Article 10), and the right to freedom of assembly (Article 11).
In accordance with them, freedom from censorship, including independence from filtering or blocking of the Internet, is essential for the practice of freedom of expression.
“The right of access to information (Article 9(1)) is also an important part of the right to freedom of expression since it’s needed as a way to construct opinions and communicate them. Blocking, filtering and censorship, in addition to the possibility of criminal prosecution, limit access to information and stifle online debate. State manipulation of the data that citizens are allowed to see (rather than view ) online also impedes the right of access to precise information”, they added.
The applicants contended further that disrupting access to the Web services hinders the entire enjoyment of a broad range of basic rights and freedoms, especially the appropriate Articles 2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 11, 13(1) and 16 of the African Charter.
They stated: “The Twitter ban negatively impacts on lives by preventing individuals from communicating, damaging businesses and livelihoods. In practical terms, it affects most negatively on the weakest people, who are less able to afford alternative or more costly way of communicating hence creating unjustifiable discrimination, promoting inequality, and unlawfully impinging on the dignity of persons contrary to Articles 2, 3 and 4 of the African Charter.”
In its resolution on the Right to Freedom of Information and Expression Online in Africa, the commission recognises the role of the Internet in advancing human and peoples’ rights in Africa.
The applicants argued that “The current ban on Twitter at Nigeria obviously contravenes the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, issued with this honourable commission, based on that states shall not interfere with the right of people to seek, receive and impart information through any means of communicating and electronic technologies, through measures like the elimination, blocking or filtering of content, unless this interference is justifiable and compatible with international human rights law and standards”