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The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. David Kaye is considering the urgent appeal against the repressive social media bill known as ‘A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith’, human rights group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has confirmed.
In a statement released and signed by the Executive Director of SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni the organisation said: “SERAP can confirm that the Office of the Special Rapporteur is now considering our petition. We have received communication from Marcelo Daher at the Office of the Special Rapporteur to this effect. The Special Rapporteur has also requested a copy of the bill, which SERAP has promptly sent to Marcelo Daher.”
“SERAP appreciates the prompt attention to this matter by the Office of the Special Rapporteur. We urge the UN to pursue this matter to a satisfactory conclusion by ensuring that the Nigerian Senate is not allowed to strangulate media freedom and social media in the country,” the group said.
“The only option for the Senate now is to withdraw this obnoxious bill without further delay and end this international embarrassment. SERAP will be prepared to withdraw the petition at the UN if the Senate can follow this honourable path,” Mumuni said.
SERAP had last week sent an urgent appeal to Mr. David Kaye requesting him to use his good offices and position to urgently request the National Assembly of Nigeria, specifically the Senate, to withdraw the said bill which if passed into law would undermine the internationally recognized right to freedom of expression and press freedom on the internet in the country.
The bill, titled: “A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith”, is sponsored by Senator Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi South. The bill provides for an option of N4 million for persons convicted of false newspaper, radio and television statements and N2 million for offenders of false phone text messages or messages on Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or WhatsApp. The bill also punishes alleged malicious intent to discredit or set the public against any person or group of persons, institutions of government.
On the social media, the bill read: “Where any person through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media post any abusive statement knowing same to be false with intent to set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2,000,000.00 or both fine and imprisonment.”
Meanwhile, the Presidency on Monday dissociated President Muhammadu Buhari from the anti-media bill. In a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, he reiterated the commitment of President Buhari’s administration to the protection of free speech in keeping with democratic tradition.