These bills, Vibrant Nigerians protest against hate Speech Bill supported by the Nigerian government, represent an alarming escalation in the authorities’ attempts to censor and punish social media users for freely expressing their opinions.
The proposed National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speech bill, and the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulation and other Related Offences bill, give authorities arbitrary powers to shut down the internet and limit access to social media, and make criticizing the government punishable with penalties of up to three years in prison.
“Social media is one of the last remaining places where Nigerians can express their opinions freely. The harassment of journalists and bloggers and the introduction of the Cyber Crimes Act have already shrunk the civic space and created a climate of fear,” said Seun Bakare, Programmes Manager Amnesty International Nigeria.
“We are urging the Nigerian authorities to drop these bills, which are open to vague and broad interpretations and impose incredibly harsh punishments simply for criticizing the authorities.”
The social media bill contains overbroad provisions that unduly restrict access to and use of social media and seems designed to gag freedom of expression. For example, section 3, which relates to the transmission of false statements of facts, contains provisions against sharing statements “likely to be prejudicial to the security of Nigeria, public safety, tranquility, public finances and friendly relations of Nigeria with other countries”. This could be easily abused to punish critics of government policies and actions, and anyone who asks difficult questions could find themselves liable for ‘diminishing public confidence in the government.’
The two bills are set to criminalize those who breach the law with punitive measures like fines and imprisonment of up to three years solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression. In the case of the “hate speech” bill, people could face life imprisonment and the death penalty.