Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked Mr. Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression to “urgently issue urgent appeal and measures to stop the government of President Goodluck Jonathan from continuing harassment and intimidation of several media houses and newspapers.”
“Unless the Special Rapporteur takes action urgently the effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom will continue to be under grave threat,” the organization also said.
The organization said that, “the seizure and censorship of major newspapers critical of government’s policies amounts to undue and impermissible external interference in the operations of independent media houses. This apparently unlawful action has in turn negatively impacted on the citizens’ effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”
SERAP in the petition dated 9 June 2014 and signed by its executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni said that it “continues to receive information about continuing threats against and harassment of independent media houses solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and the media.”
“SERAP is seriously concerned about these violations and infringements of the right to freedom of expression and the media. Rather than thoroughly investigating the violations, bringing suspected perpetrators to justice, apologising and paying adequate compensation to the media houses concerned, the government has justified them on the flimsy ground that newspaper distribution channels may have been infiltrated by some persons to transport "materials with grave security implications.”
According to the organization, “By this action the government is exerting pressure on the media houses. This demonstrates the government’s increasing intolerance for the peaceful exercise of the rights to expression, opinion, information, association and assembly by the citizens. This action also contradicts the fundamental principles of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness, without which there can be no democratic society.”
“SERAP believes that there can be no freedom unless thought is free and unrestricted; not free thought for those who agree but freedom for the thought others or we ourselves dislike. It is only from the clash of ideas that truth can emerge, for the best test of truth is the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market of ideas,” the organization added.
According to the organization, “The right to freedom of opinion and expression is a core right of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights both of which Nigeria has ratified. This right is important not only for protecting the citizens against undue infringements of the State but also guaranteeing effective participation of individuals and media houses in political life. As such, the right to freedom of expression can be described as an essential test right, the enjoyment of which illustrates the degree of enjoyment of other human rights.”
“The respect for this right reflects a country’s standard of fair play, justice and honesty. Freedom of expression is applicable not only to information and ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population,” the organization added.
The organization recalled that “the Security Council resolution 1738 (2006) has condemned deliberate attacks against journalists, media houses and professionals and associated personnel even in situations of armed conflict and called upon all parties to put an end to such practices. According to this resolution, all States including Nigeria are to respect the independence of media houses and to comply with the relevant obligations under international law to end impunity and to prosecute those responsible for serious violations of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom.”
SERAP therefore urged the Special Rapporteur to:
1. Issue urgent appeal and measures to stop the continuing harassment and intimidation against independent media houses. Unless the Special Rapporteur takes action urgently the effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom will continue to be under grave threat.
2. Remind the government of its duty to take immediate remedial measures and actions to eliminate these unjustified restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and the media
3. Ask the government to adopt measures necessary to guarantee the protection of journalists and media houses.
It would be recalled that last week the Nigerian government through the military confiscated the country's leading newspapers. SERAP’s investigations have shown that soldiers harassed newspaper distributors and vendors and seized copies of several independent newspapers, including Punch, Vanguard, Leadership, Daily Trust, and the Nation.
SERAP Executive Director