Amnesty International on Wednesday urged the Nigerian parliament to stop further consideration of two proposed laws it says will let the authorities further strip away free speech in the country.
Supporters insist the bills currently before the senate aim to stop hate speech and tackle disinformation on the internet, but the legislation has drawn fire from rights activists in Nigeria and beyond.
“These bills, 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,” Amnesty said in a statement in Abuja.
It said under the proposed laws, the government has arbitrary powers to shut down the internet and limit access to social media, and to make criticising 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,” 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 criticising the authorities.”
According to the global rights watchdog, many provisions in the bills do not meet international human rights standards.
“For example, section 4 of the “hate speech” bill prohibits abusive, threatening and insulting behaviour, which is open to very wide interpretation,” it said
“This section would pose a threat to critical opinion, satire, public dialogue and political commentary,” it said.
Amnesty said Nigeria has enough laws on its statute books to regulate social media and punish the perpetrators of hate speech.
The proposed laws have sparked outrage and condemnation in a nation where the security forces have been accused of rights abuses, including arbitrary arrests, detention without trials and extra-judicial executions of suspects.