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Ensure journalists, defenders are safe–ISHR

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By Abraham Adekunle

UPR report: Progress and concerns for human rights defenders.

During the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Nigeria, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and Partnership for Justice urged Nigerian authorities to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and journalists. The review process involved the adoption of Nigeria’s 4th UPR cycle report, where Nigerian representatives explained why some recommendations were merely noted rather than accepted. Despite this, Nigeria accepted 279 recommendations, including measures to protect freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and the work of journalists and human rights defenders.

This indicates a commitment to improving the environment for these groups. Specifically, recommendations urged reform of the Nigerian Press Council Act, which restricts journalists’ free speech. The recommendations call for the Nigerian government to fast-tract the review of Legislation that undermines these rights and amend the Nigerian Press Council Act of 1992, which restricts journalists’ freedom of expression. During the review, Nigeria reaffirmed its commitment to upholding human rights aligned with societal norms, national values, and domestic laws. Specifically, in response to recommendations on same-sex relationships, the Nigerian delegation maintained that the country’s Marriage Act defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, reflecting the beliefs of Christianity and Islam, and thus does not recognize alleged discrimination.

Report indicts former administration of gagging the press.

Concerns were raised by other Member States and Civil Society organizations about a hostile working environment for human rights defenders and journalists. In a joint statement, ISHR and Partnership for Justice pointed out that law enforcement actions and existing laws still hinder their work. They called on the Nigerian government to develop and enact a specific legal framework to recognize and protect the right to defend human rights, in full accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the Declaration +25 at the national level. Additionally, they urged the government to prevent human rights violations by law enforcement through adequate training, ensure accountability for violations, and guarantee remedies for victims.

Meanwhile, a human rights organization, Global Rights, released a report critical of the former Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, regarding its impact on civic space and basic freedoms. The report, titled “Shege! A scorecard on the Buhari administration’s impact on Nigeria’s civic space,” was published on January 13, 2024. It details what the organization sees as a decline in freedom of expression, assembly, and access to information. Global Rights claims the Buhari administration exhibited a “suspicious relationship with the media” and a “frosty relationship with civil society organizations.” The report alleges the administration attempted to control information flow, restrict free speech, and monitor citizens’ assemblies.

CJID report also reveals disturbing data about current admin.

Legislative efforts during this period are said to have aimed at curtailing these freedoms, potentially making Nigeria “one of the most repressive democracies globally” if successful. The report presents a stark picture, claiming at least 69 protesters were killed and roughly 250 arrested or harassed during the Buhari era. Additionally, Global Rights estimates over 189 journalists faced arrest, detention, or harassment. The report’s findings are supported by Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre. He criticizes the “unlawful arrests and detentions of reporters and civil society activists” under Buhari. He highlights the “atrocities committed against the Shiite” as a reason for Buhari’s disapproval and urges the current president, Bola Tinubu, not to follow a similar path. Efforts to get comments from the former administration were unsuccessful, with both the ex-president’s spokesperson and the former information minister unreachable.

Despite President Bola Tinubu’s assurances to uphold press freedom, a report by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) paints a concerning picture. The report, based on data from their Press Attack Tracker tool, reveals a troubling reality for news correspondents in Nigeria. Since Tinubu took office in May 2023, there have been 37 documented press freedom violations, with 23 occurring in 2024 alone. This data contradicts the president’s promise to respect media criticism, highlighting a significant disconnect between words and actions. The report exposes a disturbing trend of state actors being the primary perpetrators of these violations. Security forces, including the Nigerian Army, Police Force, and State Security Service (DSS), are said to be responsible for a staggering 26 attacks.

Related Article: W/Africa journalists are denied press freedom

Political figures also contribute to this environment of intimidation, with seven documented incidents attributed to them. These attacks take various forms, with unlawful arrests being the most common. Reporters are routinely detained, often by security personnel, for critical reporting. The report cites the case of four reporters arrested in Kwara State for investigating alleged financial mismanagement at a polytechnic. Nigeria has a long history of press freedom violations, with over 1,136 incidents documented since 1986. The current situation, despite presidential assurances, suggests that there is much work to be done to ensure a safe and free environment for journalists to operate in Nigeria.


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