SERAP drags Saraki, Senate to UN over repressive Press Council bill

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Senate President Bukola Saraki.

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has petitioned Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression asking him to his use your good offices and position to “publicly press the Senate President Bukola Saraki and the entire leadership of the Senate of Nigeria to immediately withdraw a bill which aims to undermine constitutionally and internationally recognized media freedom in the country.”

The Senate has passed the bill for second reading despite subsisting court case and strong opposition to it.

But in a petition dated 27 July 2018 and signed by SERAP deputy director Timothy Adewale, the organization said, “Criminalising media freedom would not only violate the rights of journalists and media practitioners to carry out their legitimate work but undermine the ability of Nigerians and others in the country to be informed on events of critical importance and participate in the governance process. The bill would escalate the growing threats and attacks on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom and have a powerful chilling effect across the country.”

The organization also said, “The proposed bill by the Senate is a major threat to media independence and diversity in the country and shows lack of understanding of the essential role of independent media in the sustainability of the country’s democratic dispensation. SERAP believes that a free and independent media would facilitate public participation, governmental accountability and improve democratic institutions.”

The petition copied to Mr Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, read in part: “The bill by the Senate also stems in part from increasingly irresponsible framing of journalists as ‘enemies’ by political leaders and aims at stifling public debate of issues such as allegations of corruption in the Senate and investigative reporting in the public interest.”

“The bill would also restrict the free flow of information and ideas, which is one of the most powerful ways of combating corruption and holding public officials including lawmakers accountable.”

“Despite strong opposition from media practitioners to the bill, the Senate of Nigeria is pushing hard to accelerate the passage of this obnoxious bill, which has already passed the second reading. SERAP is concerned that if passed into law the bill would contravene Nigeria’s international legal obligations, including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.”

“SERAP is seriously concerned that the leadership of the Senate is pushing to pass an anti-media bill titled: ‘A bill for an Act to repeal the Nigerian Press Council Act 1992 (as amended) and to enact Nigerian Press Council Act 2018’. The Nigerian Press Council Bill essentially seeks to criminalise journalists and the practice of journalism in the country.”

“The bill reproduced some of the most repressive provisions of similar obvious laws known as the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993 and the Public Officers Protection Against False Accusation Decree No. 4 of 1984. The then military government used Decree No 4 to jail journalists. The bill seeks to establish the Nigeria Press Council to usurp the powers of the courts by assuming extra-judicial powers. Under the bill, any person who is not a “registered journalist”, but who practices as one or uses any description showing to be one, commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a prison sentence or a fine or both.”

SERAP therefore requested the Special Rapporteur to:

Publicly express concerns about the proposed bill and insist that the Senate of Nigeria should immediately withdraw the bill.

Publicly press the Senate President and the leadership of the Senate of Nigeria to consistently act to meet Nigeria’s constitutional and international human rights obligations including those requiring all authorities to take steps to ensure that independent media can continue to play a central role in the country.

Urge the Senate President and the leadership of the Senate of Nigeria to use their legislative powers to promote media freedom, media independence and diversity.

Urge the Senate President and the leadership of the Senate of Nigeria to allow the right to freedom of expression and media freedom without fear of criminal prosecution, and not to contemplate impermissible restrictions to these constitutionally and internationally recognized freedoms.

Urge the Senate President and the leadership of the Senate of Nigeria to show commitment to the fundamental right of all to free and unhindered access to information.

Urge the Senate President and the leadership of the Senate of Nigeria to take steps to end all initiatives to use flawed legislation to restrict media freedom ahead of the 2019 general elections.