The ECOWAS Court of Justice has ordered the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to refrain from imposing sanctions, arresting and prosecuting anyone using twitter and other social media platforms.
The ECOWAS Court made the pronouncement on Tuesday in Abuja in a ruling delivered by the Judge Rapporteur, Justice Keikura Bangura.
The Court refrained the Nigerian government and its agents from its proposed actions pending the determination of the substantive suit filed by a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO).
The ruling was delivered following an application for interim measures filed by the Registered Trustees of the Social-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
SERAP was represented by Mr Femi Falana, SAN while the Federal Republic of Nigeria was represented by Mr Maimuna Shiru.
Delivering the ruling, Justice Banguru said the Court held that it “recognises that access to twitter provides a platform for the exercise of freedom of expression.
He added that any interference with the access will be viewed as an interference with the right to freedom of expression.
“The ECOWAS Court of Justice has ordered the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its agents “to refrain from imposing sanction on any media house.
“Or harassing, intimidating, arresting and prosecuting the Applicants, concerned Nigerians for the use of twitter and other social media platforms,”
“By extension such interference will amount to a violation of a fundamental human right which falls within the competence of this Court.
“Pursuant to Article 9 (4) of the Supplementary Protocol (A/SP.1/01/05) Amending Protocol (A/P1/7/91) relating to the Community Court of Justice,” he added.
The application for interim measures was based on Article 79 of the Rules of Procedure of the Court.
The Court however declined to order the Respondent and its agents to lift the suspension on the use of twitter pending the determination of the substantive suit.
The Court also rejected the two grounds of the preliminary objection of the Nigerian government which were: that the subject matter of the suit was not for the enforcement of any human rights recognised by the Court.
The Court also rejected preliminary objection by the Nigerian Government that it lacks the jurisdiction to determine the criminalizat of an act under Nigerian domestic laws.”
The Court ordered the government to ‘take steps to immediately implement the orders set above herein.”
In the suit filed by SERAP, the NGO asked for a declaration that the act of suspending Twitter without an order of a competent court of jurisdiction as unlawful, inconsistent and incompatible with the country’s human rights obligations.
It also asked for a declaration that the act of the government in mandating its agents to commence and continue to regulate the social media in the country amounts to restriction and censorship.
These it stated constitutes a violation of Nigeria’s obligation under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The ECOWAS Court adjourned further hearing in the suit to July 6.
Also, on the panel for the suit are Honorable Justices Gberi-be Ouattara (presiding) and Januaria T. Silva Moreira COSTA.