SERAP petitions African Commission Special Rapporteur over arrest of The Nation editors

Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has petitioned Ms Pansy Tlakula, Commissioner and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa over the “unlawful arrest and the continuing intimidation and harassment of The Nation editors and others working for the newspaper.”

In the petition dated 12 October 2011, and signed by SERAP Executive Director Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organization said that, “We ask the Honourable Commissioner to urgently intervene to stop the Nigerian government from further intimidation and harassment of journalists working for one of Nigeria’s leading independent newspapers, and respect internationally recognized right to freedom of expression and press freedom in the country.

The above illustrates the government intolerance of critical views, and its policy of attack against the media.”

The organization also said that, “the attack against the media by the government is coming at a time the government’s effort to fight corruption is waning; and when the government continues to perform poorly in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. The government’s anti-corruption agenda cannot work effectively without the important contribution of the media. Without press freedom, it is much easier for the government to take away other human rights and to perpetrate official and large scale corruption.”

The organization expressed concern that “the action by the Nigerian government contravenes the country’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 signatory. The unlawful arrest and the intimidation and harassment of innocent journalists also directly violates Section 22 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended), which requires the Press to hold the government accountable to the people.”

“SERAP is also concerned that the government’s action specifically undermines and limits the citizens’ right to freedom of opinion and expression; including the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” the organization added. According to the organization, “the guarantee of freedom of expression applies with particular force to the media. Indeed, the right to freedom of expression and peoples’ right to seek and receive information cannot be meaningful unless the media plays its key role in a democratic society without political interference or influence.”

States are required not only to refrain from interfering with rights but also take positive steps to ensure that rights, including freedom of expression, are respected. In effect, governments are under an obligation to create an environment in which a diverse, independent media can flourish, thereby satisfying the public’s right to know. SERAP therefore requests the Honourable Commissioner to:

1. Publicly express concerns about the unlawful arrest and detention of journalists and others working for The Nation newspaper, and to call for their immediate release 2. Urge the Nigerian government to end all intimidation and harassment of journalists and allow the media to function without any restrictions.

3. Urge the Nigerian government to fully comply with its international legal obligations including under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

4. Propose and facilitate the adoption of a resolution on the issue by the African Commission during its forthcoming 50th Ordinary Session in Banjul, The Gambia

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