West Africa: ECOWAS Court Fixes June 22 for Suit Challenging Twitter Suspension

Twitter removes Nigerian president’s ‘abusive’ civil war post.
15 June 2021

The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has fixed June 22, 2021, for hearing on a motion in a suit challenging the Nigerian Government's suspension of the operations of Twitter, a microblogging platform, in Nigeria.

The plaintiffs are the registered trustees of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 420 Nigerians, including former Minister of Education, Oby Ezekwesili, and the co-Founder of the #BringBackOurGirls Movement, Aisha Yesufu.

The court, in a notice to the plaintiffs' lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), and respondent's counsel, Mrs. Maimuna Lami Shiru, stated that the hearing would be virtual.

"The notice is hereby given that this application has been fixed for hearing of the application for interim measure on June 22, 2021, at 10 a.m. in the forenoon, and will be heard on that day if the business of the court permits or otherwise on some adjourned day of which you may not receive further notice," the court stated.

SERAP and the 420 concerned Nigerians are suing over "the unlawful suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, criminalisation of Nigerians and other people using Twitter, and the escalating repression of human rights, particularly the rights to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the country."

In the suit number: ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21, they are 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 plaintiffs contend that "if this application is not urgently granted, the federal government will continue to arbitrarily suspend Twitter and threaten to impose criminal and other sanctions on Nigerians, telecommunication companies, media houses, broadcast stations and other people using Twitter in Nigeria, and the perpetual order sought in this suit might be rendered nugatory.

"The suspension of Twitter is aimed at intimidating and stopping Nigerians from using Twitter and other social media platforms to assess government policies, expose corruption, and criticise acts of official impunity by agents of the federal government.

"The free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens and elected representatives is essential.

"This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censor or restraints, and to form public opinion. The public also has a corresponding right to receive media output."

They added: "Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and the full enjoyment of this right is central to achieving individual freedom and to developing democracy. It is not only the cornerstone of democracy but indispensable to a thriving civil society.

"The suspension and threat of prosecution by the Federal Government of Nigeria constitute a fundamental breach of the country's international human rights obligations, including under Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Nigeria is a state party."

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