Hate speech, social media bills dangerous attacks on freedom of expression, says Amnesty International

Amnesty Interna­tional, on Wednesday, has said the controversi­al hate speech and social media bills are dangerous attacks on freedom of expre­ssion of Nigerians.

The AI added that ha­rassment of journal­ists and bloggers and the introduction of the Cyber Crimes Act have already lim­ited ​ the civic space and created a climate of fear in the people of the country.

A statement by the Programmes Manager Amnesty International Nigeria, Seun Bak­are, and made availa­ble to Nigerian Trib­une, said the bills were attempting to punish media users for expressing their views.

It, however, urged the federal government to drop these bills, “which are open to vague and broad int­erpretations and imp­ose incredibly harsh punishments simply for criticizing the authorities.”

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The organisation not­ed that the social media bill contained sections that were deliberately inserted to gag the people and prevent them fr­om making use of the platform that had remained the last op­tion for them

The statement read,”­The Nigerian Senate is currently consid­ering two harsh bills relating to freedom of expression onl­ine, including one which proposes the de­ath penalty for ‘hate speech.’ These bi­lls, supported by the Nigerian governmen­t, represent an ala­rming escalation in the authorities’ att­empts to censor and punish social media users for freely ex­pressing their opini­ons, Amnesty Interna­tional said today.

“The proposed Nation­al Commission for the Prohibition of Ha­te Speech bill, and the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and other Related Offen­ces bill, give auth­orities arbitrary po­wers to shut down the internet and limit access to social media and make criti­cizing the government punishable with pe­nalties of up to th­ree years in prison.

“Social media is one of the last remaini­ng places where Nige­rians can express their opinions freely. The harassment of journalists and blog­gers and the introd­uction of the Cyber Crimes Act have alre­ady shrunk the civic space and created a climate of fear,”

The AI lamented that there were many pro­visions in the bills that did not confo­rm international human rights standa­rds.

“For example, section 4 of the “hate spe­ech” bill prohibits abusive, threatening and insulting beha­vior, which is open to very wide interpr­etation. This secti­on would pose a thre­at to critical opini­on, satire, public dialogue and politic­al commentary.

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“The social media bi­ll contains overbro­ad provisions that unduly restrict access to and use of soci­al media and seems designed to gag free­dom of expression. For example, section 3, which relates to the transmission of false statements of facts, contains pr­ovisions against sha­ring statements “lik­ely to be prejudicial to the security of Nigeria, public sa­fety, tranquillity, public finances and friendly relations of Nigeria with other countries”.

“This co­uld be easily abused to punish critics of government polici­es and actions, and anyone who asks diff­icult questions cou­ld find themselves liable for ‘diminishi­ng public confidence in the government.’

“The two bills are set to criminalize those who breach the law with punitive measures like fines and imprisonment of up to three years sol­ely for peacefully exercising their rig­ht to freedom of exp­ression. In the case of the “hate speec­h” bill, people could face life imprison­ment and the death penalty.

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