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Spaces for Change worries about “over-application or abuse’’ of security infrastructure to crack down on civic actors

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“According to the dialogists including media professionals, misapplication or misuse of counter-terrorism strategies have resulted in some politically-motivated criminal prosecutions bordering on financial crimes, national security threats among others’’

“Of particular note is the misuse of cyber laws and data regulations to restrict democratic freedoms on the internet and clampdown on civic actors”

“The participants observed that the rights and activities of queer groups are being repressed as a result of the counter-terrorism measures and alleged that political agents were branding dissent, non-violent agitations and violent demonstrations as terrorism and designating agitators as terrorist groups’’

Participants at the just-concluded Action Group on Free Civic Space, an in-house dialogue of Spaces for Change (S4C), have expressed grave concern about what they called over-application or abuse of security infrastructure to crack down on civic actors in Nigeria.

Equally worrisome is the invocation of the counter-terrorism and responses to security threats by the Federal Government to curtail internet, digital and media freedoms in the country and also curtail humanitarian action, and limit civil society especially in the Northeast region.

The participants, who converged in Lagos, also alerted that the use and abuse of counter-terror laws, tools are becoming the dominant driver of closing civic space.

Persecondnews reports that the dialogue considered the various research conducted by experts on the uses and misuses of digital laws and technologies to surveil civic actors and silence dissent.

Civic actors are people who work to make a difference by promoting quality of life, address public concerns and protect pubic values.

According to the dialogists including media professionals, misapplication or misuse of counter-terrorism strategies have resulted in some politically motivated criminal prosecutions bordering on financial crimes, national security threats among others.

Of particular note is the misuse of cyber laws and data regulations to restrict democratic freedoms on the internet and clamp down on civic actors.

The participants observed that the rights and activities of queer groups are being repressed as a result of the counter-terrorism measures and alleged that political agents were branding dissent, non-violent agitations and violent demonstrations as terrorism and designating agitators as terrorist groups.

They, however, stressed the need for Nigeria’s counter-terrorism laws, policies and enforcement methods to conform with international counter-terrorism legal instruments that uphold human rights and freedoms.

“Counter-terrorism mantra is being exploited to further narrow the spaces for democratic contestation and engagement.

“Lawful and peaceful protests as ingredients of democracy worldwide are being repressed. The terms terrorism and extremism are being used to also suppress democratic freedoms.’’

On the situation in the Southeast, the meeting noted that many communities were under siege and military occupation in the name of curbing internal strife, local vigilance groups operation and farmer-herder bloody clashes.

It noted with concern the deployment of maximum force by the military including airstrikes and aerial bombardments in search of local vigilantes formed by the people against the herders with innocent lives wasted on daily basis in the cross-fires.

It wants federal and state governments in the zone to address the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a result of the ongoing conflicts.

On the Twitter ban by the federal government which has lasted more than 110 days, the participants observed that the ban or suspension of Twitter’s operation in Nigeria has erased so many jobs and businesses particularly that of persons living with disabilities (PLDs).

“The PWDs are the most vulnerable to this policy and it is further closing civic space. They cannot compete physically to go out there and eke out a living.

“They rely on social platforms such as Twitter to ply their trade and showcase their skills and other businesses and make some money,’’ the participants said.

Earlier in her opening speech at the workshop, the CEO of Spaces for Change (S4C), Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, said a lot of terrorism tools were being used to close civic and media space in the country.

She recalled how journalists and protesters were charged with terrorism, citing the misuse of Terrorism Act.

“Blogs, instagram, websites are being pulled down at will for comments considered to be offensive.’’

Persecondnews also recalls that a journalist and activist, Agba Jalingo, was charged with terrorism for criticizing Cross River Governor Ben Ayade.

However, human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana, advised Ayade to sue Jalingo for libel instead of “using machinery of the state to harass political opponents.

Jalingo was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Calabar, on four counts bordering on “acts of treason, treasonable felony, and threatening through various publications on crossriverwatch.com and social media, using malicious publications, instigating the people of Nigeria to stage protest for the removal of the Governor of Cross River State of Nigeria from office without due process of law and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 41 of the Criminal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

Count Two of the charge states: “That you, Agba Jalingo, ‘M’ on or about the 2ndof July 2019, at about 10am at No. 2, Marian Road, Calabar, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, did make and publish false statement on crossriverwatch.com and facebook.com/story titled: “How Ayade approved and diverted N500m for Cross River Micro Finance” in order to cause alarm, hatred and disturb public peace in Calabar, for the purpose of bringing down the reputation of the Executive Governor of Cross River State, His Excellency, Senator Professor Ben Ayade, and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 59 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.’’

Count Three states, “That you, Agba Jalingo, ‘M’ (an associate of Mr.Omoyele Sowore) on or about the 2nd day of July … did conspire with Prince Ekanem Ekpo, ‘M’ and others now at large to commit unlawful acts, to wit, terrorism and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 17 of the Terrorism (Prevention Amendment) Act, 2013.’’

The fourth count added that Jalingo, “an associate of Mr. Omoyele Sowore,” “did hold meeting with leaders of cult groups across Cross River State, instigate them to commence acts of terrorism on the person of His Excellency, Senator Professor Ben Ayade … to undemocratically force his government to an end through various acts of violence and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 1(2) (a) (b) of the Terrorism (Prevention Amendment) Act, 2013.’’

 

 

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