Don’t Censor Free Speech in the Name of Security

General_Buhari_holding_a_broom_byHeinrich_Böll_Stiftung

Target: Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria

Goal: Stop attempts to censor online free speech against the government that are disguised as a security measure.

Citizens could be imprisoned and fined for speaking their minds online if a new law passes in Nigeria. The “Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith” was first proposed by a senator from President Muhammadu Buhari’s All People’s Congress Party and, if passed, would enact harsh restrictions on the freedoms of Nigerians on the Internet. Nigeria is less than one year removed from its first ever free and fair election, and the passing of this bill would represent a major step backwards for the country’s democratic reputation.

The bill contains a number of items that could potentially limit the freedoms of Nigerians. The first section states that, “Anyone who intentionally propagates false information that could threaten the security of the country or that is capable of inciting the general public against the government through electronic message,” could face up to seven years in prison or a $25,000 fine. The second passage appears to target social media applications such as Twitter, prohibiting “abusive statements … to set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law.”

As evidenced with the tactics of terrorist cells such as ISIS and Boko Haram, social media has become a haven for criminal organizations, and the need for security is understandable. This bill, however, is suspiciously vague and concerns abound that it will grant the government the ability to punish normal Nigerian citizens who voice their displeasure with the government.

Incidentally, it was free speech and a free press that led to Nigeria’s elections, and for President Buhari to pass a bill that might silence dissidents would run counter to the very ideology that saw him rise to power. This bill must be struck down by the Nigerian government so that Nigeria can continue its implementation of progressive democratic policies.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear President Buhari,

A new law proposed by a senator from your own party represents a serious threat to the freedom and security of your nation’s citizens. The “Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and Other Matters Connected Therewith” would enact harsh restrictions on the freedoms of Nigerians on the Internet. Nigeria is less than one year removed from its first ever free and fair election, and the passing of this bill would represent a major step backwards for your country’s democratic reputation.

As criminal organizations increase their presence on social media, I understand the need for security. This bill, however, is not the answer. The vague wording allows for the punishment of normal citizens and the ability to voice displeasure with one’s government is a key feature of a democratic society. I urge you to protect your people and strike down the proposed act.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

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