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Senate Clampdown on Journalists, Internet Freedoms



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By Gbenga Ogundare

The Senate President Bukola Saraki and  a dozen other senators led by Dino Melaye and one Bala Ibn Na’allah has run tests to find out whether it can cut
the country off from the World Wide Web,  National Daily investigation discovered Sunday evening in Abuja.
And if their repressive antics succeed, the group intend to propose that communications hubs run by the country’s internet providers be ordered to block some news websites and foreign communications channels.
National Daily investigation can confirm that a traffic control system called DPI was used in the experiment, and the aim was to find out whether the internet in the country could work independently from the World Wide Web.
Over the weekend, the international community expressed concerns over the Anti-Media Bill proposed by All Progressives Congress (APC) Senator, Bala Ibn Na’allah.
The social media bill proposed by the senator says:“Where any person through text message, tweets, WhatsApp or through any social media posts any abusive statement knowing same to be false with intent to set the public against any person and group of persons, an institution of government or such other bodies established by law shall be guilty of an offence and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for two years or a fine of N2,000,000.00 or both fine and imprisonment.”
In Washington, Tom Altwater, a human rights lawyer said the proposed bill is obnoxious under a democratic government. “It is crazy to say that there cannot be criminal libel or defamation.  This is not 1984,’ he said.
This newspaper learnt that the group was preparing for the possibility of shutting down the information flow in and out of the country in case of a ‘domestic political emergency’.
The senate under Saraki has been tightening its noose on the internet by attempting to introduce new legislation and banning websites.
Press freedom is still a major challenge in Nigeria where journalists are often arrested and prosecuted for being critical of government officials, world  media experts have said.
As a result of recent reports in Sahara Reporters and some News websites the senators in a meeting last week proposed that a letter be written to internet giants Google, Twitter and Facebook warning them that they could be banned in the country if they violate its strict cyberspace laws.
Samantha Fox, a journalist and academic at the University of Maryland, believes media suppression exists in Nigeria because leaders do not want to be accountable to their citizens.
“The function of the media in any democracy is to hold leaders accountable which make them uncomfortable,” she said.
According to her, security fears now erode press freedom in the country, ‘Journalists should support each other in the endless fight for a free media, she concluded.
CPJ, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, believes that the use of criminal laws against journalists for reporting news or opinion is wrong and has a deeply chilling effect on the press as a whole. Journalists are critics–not criminals.
In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Committee to Protect Jornalists, CPJ said that ” As Nigeria prepares to enter a new chapter in its history, we urge you and your administration to take steps to ensure that journalists are able to work freely and openly in the country without fear of reprisal of any form.”
In recent weeks, it said that Nigeria retains outdated laws on criminal defamation, publishing false information, and sedition, which authorities have used to persecute journalists for their reporting.
“Still, despite growing international consensus that journalists should never face criminal charges for their professional work, Nigerian authorities continue to persecute the media, CPJ said.

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