A local rights group, along with dozens of Nigerians, had gone to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States to fight the ban.
A West African court has stopped the Nigerian government from “illegally” prosecuting people who use Twitter, as it considers legal action by activists and journalists seeking to overturn the social media giant’s ban.
In early June, authorities suspended Twitter indefinitely, two days after the platform deleted a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists, who Twitter said violated its rules. The Nigerian attorney general further said those who defied the ban should be prosecuted, but gave no details as to what law would be invoked.
In response, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a local rights group, along with 176 other Nigerians, went to court to fight the ban.
A statement on Tuesday describing the decision to suspend operations of the hugely popular social media platform as an attempt to silence government critics of SERAP cited the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of African States West (ECOWAS) saying it restricted the government from taking action against citizens or the media for using Twitter, pending a substantive decision on the central issue.
JUST IN: Twitter ban: According to the ECOWAS Court: “The Court has listened very carefully to Nigeria’s objection. Any interference with Twitter is considered a human rights violation. It will violate human rights. Nigeria must take immediate steps to implement this order.
— SERAP (@SERAPNigeria) June 22, 2021
“The court listened very carefully to the objection,” SERAP said. “Any interference with Twitter is considered an inference with human rights, and it will violate human rights,” he added.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit had argued that the suspension of Twitter “intensified the repression of human rights and unlawfully restricted the rights of Nigerians and others to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom in the country”.
The petitioners also urged the court to hold the Nigerian government accountable for violating “their basic human right and breaching their international obligations” by banning Twitter.
We urge the @GovNigeria respect the ruling of the ECOWAS Court, take steps to ease restrictions on citizens’ access to social media in Nigeria, and respect the right of Nigerians to freedom of expression online and offline. #ProtectCivicSpace #KeepItOn.
— RFK Human Rights (@RFKHumanRights) June 22, 2021
The government’s decision prompted an immediate backlash among social media users and human rights activists, with #NigeriaTwitterBan and #KeepitOn trending on the platform as Nigerians used virtual private networks to access the site.
The Nigerian government had no immediate comment after Tuesday’s decision.
Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed has previously said the suspension had nothing to do with Buhari’s tweet being deleted, but rather “separatists inciting violence” online.
“Regulating social media is not about stifling press freedom. All we’re talking about is using these platforms responsibly,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube were still accessible.
In 2021, Nigeria ranked 120 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index.