Four prominent human rights groups have urged the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to commit to freedom of expression and assembly and end the arrests of citizens for expressing their opinions.
They asked the government to immediately release those being detained solely for exercising their right to free speech and amend any laws not in line with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations.
The human rights groups made this known in a joint statement signed by Fatou Jagne Senhore, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 West Africa, Chido Onumah, Coordinator of African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, Okechukwu Nwaguma, Executive Director of RULAAC and Olanrewaju Suraju, Chairman of HEDA Resource Center.
The statement reads, “Protest is a right. The Nigerian constitution clearly recognises the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Nigerian security forces cannot simply arrest anyone who expresses an opinion critical of the government. Yet, in the past week, we have witnessed mass arrests of protesters.
“On 5 August, dozens of people were arrested in Abuja, Lagos, Abeokuta, Kano, Calabar and Osogbo during the #RevolutionNow protests calling for good governance. The police used teargas to disperse the largely peaceful protests. Most people were released the following day, without charge. Despite their release, the Nigerian authorities did not shed light on the excessive use of force against the protesters and the allegations of degrading treatments to which some demonstrators were allegedly subjected.
“In addition, an activist named Usman Zush remained in detention about 7 days without being judged. The police were accusing him of impersonation alleging that he was found with two ID cards. But a local lawyer who was closer to the case told anonymously to A19 that Usman was solely arrested in connexion with the RevolutionNow protest and impersonation was to cover up. Three days later, on 8 August, protesters were arrested in southern Kaduna State during protests against the increased insecurity in the state.
“Repression of protests and Impunity should stop. The perpetrators of the alleged inhuman violations should be identified and punished. It’s the responsibility of the Nigerian Government to investigate and enforce justice.
The groups also condemned the recent arrests and judicial decisions for blasphemy in Northern part of Nigeria.
“On August 10, 2020, the singer Sharif was sentenced to death for blasphemy by a Sharia Court in Kano State. He was accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad in a song he distributed through WhatsApp in March 2020.
“In another case, on 28 April, the President of the Nigerian Humanist Association was arrested in Kaduna for insulting the Prophet Muhammad on his Facebook page a day earlier. He is reportedly yet to be charged and detained incommunicado in Kano State. He may risk a death sentence like Sharif.
“It is shocking that posting a song on WhatsApp is punished with death, even if it is considered insulting. Nigerian authorities should protect opinions online and offline in consonance with its international human rights obligations. Death sentence cannot be accomplished without violating the right to life guaranteed to all Nigerians. It should have never been decided. Death penalty must be abolished unconditionally.
“We urge the Nigerian authorities to release all people who are currently detained across the country solely for expressing their opinions. In addition, Nigeria should ensure its laws enable a climate of free speech.”