Lagos, Monday, November 9, 2020: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court in Ibadan, Oyo State, challenging the powers of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to impose fines on broadcasting stations since it is not a judicial body. The organization is asking the court to set aside the fines of N3 million each imposed by the NBC on three television stations on October 23 as unlawfully imposed and therefore null and void.
In the suit filed on behalf of the organization by Ibadan-based lawyer, Mr. Boluwatife Sanya, MRA is asking the court to declare the fines imposed by the NBC on ARISE Television, Channels Television and the Africa Independent Television (AIT) over their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests null and void; set aside the fines as unlawfully imposed; and issue a perpetual injunction restraining the Commission from imposing sanctions or fines or other unlawful or unconstitutional restrictions on television and radio stations in Nigeria.
The suit, brought under the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009; Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended; and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as preserved by the Ratification and Enforcement Act (Cap A9), Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, is founded in part on MRA’s contention that the imposition of sanctions and fines of N3 million each on the three stations contravenes section 15.2.2 and other provisions of the Nigeria Broadcasting Code relating to sanctions and fines as well as the doctrine of fair hearing as provided for in the Constitution.
Specifically, MRA is seeking the following reliefs:
The suit is supported by an 18-paragraph affidavit deposed to on behalf of MRA by Ms Mercy Abudu, in which she recounted the circumstances surrounding the imposition of the fines on the three stations and concerns of censorship of the television stations expressed by members of MRA and their fears that the action would infringe on their rights to receive information and ideas from the stations.
In his written address in support of MRA’s suit, Mr. Sanya accused the NBC of acting as the accuser and the judge at the same time in its own case in contravention of the well-established human rights principle, which is also guaranteed in the Nigerian Constitution, that “you cannot be a judge in your own cause.”
Besides, he said, the Court of Appeal had made clear in NOSDRA v Mobil Producing Nigeria Unlimited (2018) LPELR-44210 (CA) that “the imposition of fines by NOSDRA was contrary to its powers on the basis that penalties or fines are imposed as punishment for an offence or violation of the law and the power as well as competence to establish that an offence has been committed belongs to the courts and not a regulatory agency.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing.
For further information, please contact:
Idowu Adewale (Mr.)
Communications Officer, Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
LAGOS, Friday, November 6, 2020: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today called on the Federal Government to launch a transparent and independent investigation into the death of Mr. Pelumi Onifade, a reporter with Gboah TV, an online television channel, who was reportedly arrested by officers attached to the Lagos state task force while covering the #EndSARS protests, and later found dead at a mortuary in Ikorodu Lagos, where his body was deposited.
The 20-year old Mr. Onifade was covering the scene of a mob raid on a government facility in the Oko Oba area of Agege Local Government Area for Gboah TV, where he was serving as an intern, when operatives of the task force stormed the scene and engaged hoodlums who attempted to loot palliatives at the Ministry of Agriculture store in the Abattoir area of the state.
Despite wearing a jacket identifying him as a journalist, he was reportedly arrested and dragged away by men of the task force on October 24, 2020. A statement by Gboah TV said the family and the station searched for him for days before they discovered his corpse at the mortuary in Ikorodu.
The late Mr. Onifade was a second year student of the department of history at the Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijagun, Ogun State, was an intern with Gboah TV.
MRA’s Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, said in a statement in Lagos that “Mr. Onifade’s death is one too many and is particularly ironic as he was arrested while covering protests that had engulfed the country as a result of police brutality and extra-judicial killings. This latest incident must not go uninvestigated. The Federal Government must make every effort to establish the circumstances of his death, identify his killers and make them to face the wrath of the law.”
Reminding the Federal Government that earlier his week, on the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on November 2, MRA had called for the establishment of mechanisms to combat impunity for attacks and violence against media workers in order to ensure accountability for such acts and discourage future attacks, Mr. Longe said “the killing of Mr. Onifade has given additional urgency to such a call. In this day and age, no attack against any journalist, and certainly not the killing of a journalist, should go unpunished as such cases of impunity only breed more impunity.”
He reiterated MRA’s earlier call on the Government to fulfill its international obligations by launching a serious and transparent investigation into all unresolved cases of murders of journalists since the 1986 assassination of the former Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine, Mr. Dele Giwa, and several other journalists whose deaths have not been resolved, including the instant case of Mr. Onifade.
Mr. Longe said MRA was standing with the Onifade family in demanding, among other things, that the police officer or officers who killed Mr. Onifade must be identified and prosecuted and that pending a full investigation, the officer who led the squad that arrested the young journalist should be held responsible and if he is unable to provide a convincing account of what happened after they left the scene of the arrest and show that Mr. Onifade left his custody alive, should be prosecuted for the killing.
He also called for substantial compensation to the Onifade family for the wrongful killing of their son and a public apology to the family by both the Lagos State Government and Lagos State Police Command.
For further information, please contact:
Media Rights Agenda
Lagos, Monday, November 2, 2020: On the occasion of this year’s International Day to End Impunity for crimes against journalists, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today called on the Federal Government to facilitate the establishment of mechanisms to combat impunity for attacks and violence against media workers in order to ensure accountability for such acts and discourage future attacks.
In a statement issued in Lagos, MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, insisted that developing and implementing strategies for combatting impunity for attacks and violence against journalists and other media workers was one of the most effective ways of responding to the high incidence of crimes against journalists in the country and preventing future attacks.
He said: “Any failure on the part of government to take decisive action to end impunity for crimes against journalists and put mechanisms in place to respond to, punish perpetrators and prevent future attacks will create a vicious circle where journalists do not get justice for the crimes committed against them while the perpetrators are emboldened and will continue such attacks unchecked.”
Mr. Ojo outlined options open to the Government in developing and implementing such strategies to include the establishment of a multi-stakeholder independent commission; the creation of special investigative units; or the appointment of a special prosecutor as well as the adoption of specific protocols and methods for investigating cases and prosecuting the perpetrators of such attacks while also protecting journalists and media workers who are threatened.
He said the mandate of such a body or official would conceivably include conducting speedy, thorough, independent and effective investigations into all cases of alleged violence, threats and attacks against journalists and media workers, such as physical attacks, assaults, cases of torture, unlawful arrests and detention, threats to life or of physical harm, seizure or destruction of professional equipment, and bringing the perpetrators to justice, including those who ordered the attacks, conspired to carry them out, aided and abetted or covered up such crimes. The mechanism would also ensure that victims and their families have access to appropriate compensations, assistance and restitution.
Mr. Ojo called on the Federal Government to urgently convene a meeting of stakeholders to discuss the matter in detail, agree on the most effective national mechanism to be adopted and decide how it should operate as well as its powers and functions.
He called on the Government to fulfill its international obligations by launching a serious and transparent investigation into all unresolved cases of murders of journalists, noting that since the 1986 assassination of the former Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine, Mr. Dele Giwa, numerous journalists have been killed in the country and that in none of these cases have the perpetrators been identified, tried in court, convicted and punished for their crimes.
Mr. Ojo also observed that over the years, there have been hundreds of other cases of attacks on journalists, other media workers and media facilities which have not been seriously investigated and for which the perpetrators have not been prosecuted and punished.
According to him, “Over the last one month, we have witnessed attacks on journalists and media organizations in such numbers, with such intensity and brazenness never before seen in our recent history. While the government’s track record of respect for and protection of media freedom has never been remarkable, events in the past few weeks indicate an escalation in the attacks against the media that is extremely concerning.”
Mr. Ojo argued that the Government’s lukewarm attitude towards attacks on the media, even when government officials or security agents are not the perpetrators, is not only unhelpful to international efforts to combat impunity for crimes against journalists everywhere, but also constitutes an abdication of responsibility.
He contended that although journalists and media organizations are the immediate and primary victims of such attacks, given the important role that the media play in society, including in advancing democratic culture and practice, the ultimate losers are Nigerians in the wider society as most of them would remain ill-informed and even more susceptible to fake news, misinformation and disinformation.
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed November 2 as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in Resolution A/RES/68/163, adopted on December 18, 2013 in which it urged UN Member States to “do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability through the conduct of impartial, speedy and effective investigations into all alleged violence against journalists and media workers falling within their jurisdiction and to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.”
For further information, please contact:
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
LAGOS, Wednesday, October 28, 2020: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the International Press Centre (IPC) today condemned the sanctioning of three television stations by theNational Broadcasting Commission (NBC) over the coverage of the #ENDSARS protests, describing the Commission’s action as an outrageous violation of the Constitution and basic principles of fair hearing which cannot be allowed to stand.
By a letter dated October 23, 2020 signed by its Acting Director General, Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, the NBC fined each of the three stations – Channels Television, Africa Independent Television (AIT) and ARISE Television – N3 million as penalty for their alleged use of unsubstantiated footages from social media in their coverage of the #ENDSARS protests and gave them three weeks from the date of receipt of the letter to pay the amount to avoid further sanctions.
The Commission said it had earlier written to them on October 21, 2020, where they were “cautioned on the sustained use of Fake News, disturbing visuals, close-up shots and attacks in the coverage of the ENDSARS protests”.It stated that although social media may be a source of information, it is incumbent on broadcasters to verify such materials before usage and drew attention to some provisions of the Broadcasting Code, implying that the provisions had been breached without indicating any broadcast that breached any of these provisions.
In a Joint Statement issued in Lagos, the two organizations accused the NBC of turning itself into a “kangaroo court” and called on it to immediately reverse its decision sanctioning the three stations in order to save itself the embarrassment that both the Commission and the country would suffer locally and internationally as a result of its action.
MRA’s Executive Director, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, said “a situation where the NBC, which is so glaringly lacking in independence and subject to the direct control of political authorities, wrote the Nigeria Broadcasting Code creating the offences for which the stations were sanctioned and was the complainant in the allegations against the stations, prosecuted them and sat in judgment on the matter without even giving the stations any opportunity to defend themselves against the charges while also imposing a fine of N3 million on each of them, which it intends to collect and pocket, is offensive to any notion of fair hearing, equity or justice.”
According to him, “Every Nigerian ought to be scandalized by this obscene violation of a principle that is sacrosanct not only under our Constitution but under every regional and international human rights instrument to which Nigeria is a state party. It portrays Nigeria as crude and primitive and will no doubt bring the country to ridicule.” He pledged that his organization would take legal action to challenge the NBC’s action.
Mr. Lanre Arogundade, the Executive Director of IPC, spoke in the same vein saying, “The NBC has in this matter again constituted itself into the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge in its own case. It is indeed strange that the fines were arbitrarily imposed without giving the concerned media outlets the option of defending the allegations. All this constitutes an affront on rule of law”
Mr. Arogundade said IPC would team up with MRA to use the instrumentality of the law to challenge the absurdities perpetrated by NBC.
For further information, please contact:
Idowu Adewale (Mr.)
Communications Officer, Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Olutoyin Ayoade (Ms)
Communications Officer, International Press Centre (IPC)
LAGOS, Friday, October 23, 2020: Media Rights Agenda (MRA) today condemned recent attacks against journalists and media houses in some parts of the country, particularly in Lagos, by State and non-State actors in the wake of the #EndSARS protests, describing the actions as reprehensible acts of intimidation and reprisals against media workers and organizations engaged in the lawful pursuit of their professional functions.
In a statement issued by its Programme Director, Mr. Ayode Longe, MRA said “the failure of the Government and its law enforcement agencies to protect media houses, journalists and other media workers in the face of these threats, wanton acts of harassment and intimidation, arson, physical violence and other violation of media rights is a shameful abdication by the Government of its legal and constitutional responsibility to protect them as well as a breach of its obligations under international human rights Law.
According to Mr. Longe, “The media serve a critically important function in society, particularly in times of crisis and emergencies, as it is imperative that citizens, other members of the public and communities are adequately informed about the prevailing situation, including any threat to their lives or wellbeing. Such acts of intimidation and violence against the media and journalists, as we have witnessed in recent days, undermine their ability to perform their functions and violate the public’s right of access to information.”
He cited recent incidents of attacks against the media, including the October 20 brutalization of two journalists with The Punch newspaper, Mr. Femi Dawodu and Mr. Segun Odunayo, by over 20 policemen while they were covering the #EndSARS protests in the Alausa area of Lagos. The journalists were recording protest activities in the area when the policemen accosted them and ordered them to stop recording. Upon identifying themselves as journalists, the policemen furiously attacked and subsequently took them to the Alausa Police Station where they were further brutalized and asked to change the narrative of their recording. Before they were released, they were warned that the police will come after them if any negative reports about the police were published.
Mr. Longe recalled another instance on the next day, on October 21, when the offices of Television Continental (TVC) in Lagos were attacked allegedly by hoodlums taking advantage of the #EndSARS protests. The mob invaded the offices, destroyed property and burnt vehicles parked in the premises as well as the building housing the television station.
In yet another instance, according to him, the offices of The Nation newspaper, also in Lagos, were attacked and burnt down by suspected hoodlums who were also taking advantage of the protests and were able to carry out their nefarious activities unimpeded despite the imposition of a 24-hour curfew all over Lagos State two days earlier by the Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwoolu, which remains in force.
Mr. Longe stressed that there can be no justification for attacking journalists and media houses as such actions are likely to result in self-censorship as journalists and other media workers become fearful that they are being watched and would be attacked by any party to a conflict or any interest group that is displeased with their reporting.
Noting that impunity for such attacks against journalists and media houses would only embolden the perpetrators and encourage future attacks, he called on the Government to ensure accountability for these acts of violence against the media and other violations of their rights by promptly conducting thorough, independent and transparent investigations into all the cases and bringing the perpetrators, including those who ordered, supported or covered up any of these activities, to justice.
He also urged the Government and law enforcement agencies to live up to their responsibilities of ensuring the safety of journalists and other media workers by taking urgent steps and putting in place mechanisms to protect media organizations, journalists and other media workers across the country.
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A cameraman with Arise Television, Francis Ogbonna and a journalist with Premium Times, Ebuka Onyeji, were on October 11, 2020 assaulted while covering a news conference where Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police Mohammed Adamu announced the dissolution of the Special Anti-robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious unit of the Nigerian Police.
According to Ferdinand Duruoha, another crew member of Arise TV, Ogbonna was hit several times on the head and his camera destroyed, while he (Duruoha) took to his heels after being intimidated.
Duruoha said he fled after hearing orders of “Shoot him! shoot him!” The crew was interviewing protesters who had gathered at the Police headquarters.
“Police pounced on anyone they could, with Ogbonna, one of many injured,” Duruoha said
A video recording by Duruoha later showed Ogbonna’s injuries, which resulted in blood gushing out of his head.
Ebuka Onyeji was also assaulted by police officers while covering the same #EndSARS protest in Abuja.
Onyeji reported how police fired teargas canisters at the protesters, who were marching in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, demanding the scrapping of the notorious police unit, FSARS.
He said he witnessed how protesters were violently dispersed with teargas and water cannons. Some of the police officers then alighted from their vehicles and chased the protesters including journalists covering the protest. Some of the protesters were beaten with huge sticks and iron bars by the police officers.
Onyeji, along with some activists were chased down and beaten too. This is despite Mr Onyeji clearly identifying himself as a journalist.
“God punish you, journalists,” one of the officers said as he swung a big stick at the reporter aiming for his head.
The reporter was only able to block some of the hits with his hand as he ran away to avoid further beatings.
Meanwhile, the International Press Centre, IPC, Lagos, has condemned the unwarranted assault and attack by officers of the Nigeria police on the journalists.
IPC Executive Director, Mr. Lanre Arogundade said, “We condemn the attack on the journalist while carrying out his legitimate duty of covering a protest.”
IPC, therefore, called on the IGP to intervene and ensure that the culprit is punished in accordance with the provisions of the law.
The African Platform on Access to Information Working Group (APAI-WG) on September 28, 2020 called on African leaders to ensure that no country is left behind in giving effect to the fundamental importance of access to information as the global community celebrated the first International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) as designated by the United Nations General Assembly in October 2019.
In a statement to commemorate the Day, the APAI-WG, a network of civil society organizations in Africa engaged in advancing the right to information, noted that despite the tremendous progress made on the continent and around the world in the last few years more than half of the countries in Africa are yet to adopt laws or other frameworks granting or guaranteeing their citizens a right of access to information.
Members of the APAI-WG are the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) in Kampala, Uganda, which also currently serves as its Secretariat; the East and West African offices of Article 19, based in Nairobi, Kenya and Dakar, Senegal respectively; the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), based in Dakar; Highway Africa in Grahamstown, South Africa; and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), based in Accra, Ghana.
Others are the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), whose regional secretariat is currently hosted in Harare, Zimbabwe; Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in Lagos, Nigeria; the Namibia Media Trust (NMT), based in Windhoek, Namibia; the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC), in Cape Town, South Africa; and The African Editors’ Forum (TAEF).
Zoé Titus, Chairperson of the APAI-WG, said: “One of the profound observations contained in the General Assembly’s resolution proclaiming September 28 as International Day for Universal Access to Information, is the reaffirmation of the fact that freedom of expression and access to information are cornerstones of inclusive knowledge societies. It follows therefore that if Africa is to overcome the challenges of illiteracy and ignorance, it cannot take a back seat in the global drive towards public access to information.”
She praised Liberia for its leadership in sponsoring the resolution adopted by the General Assembly to proclaim September 28 an international Day and by so doing, again bequeathing that role to Africa, saying it was consistent with a similar role played by other African countries in sponsoring an identical resolution which was adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in November 2015.
According to MsTitus, the APAI-WG was motivated by its appreciation of the importance of the right to information in deciding to document its campaign for the proclamation of the International Day in a book titled “Pounding Pavements, Knocking on Doors”, saying the group was honoured to have President George Weah of Liberia write the foreword to the book.
Stressing that access to information is now more important than ever in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, she noted that “At this time, when our future seems so uncertain and we move forward knowing we have to reimagine our new normal, there is no doubt that access to information is our beacon of hope. It is fuelled by our collective vision for a more equitable world free of disease, poverty and inequality. This is our wish for Africa and the world.”
MsTitus said African civil society organisations and governments should be justifiably proud of the role they played in securing an international day on the right to information, firstly with the UNESCO approval in 2015 and ultimately the UN-level recognition that they birthed in 2019, adding “It is a testament to how collective effort endorsed global consensus on how the right to access to information improves people’s lives.”
She insisted that for the APAI-WG, the achievement, significant as it was, is not the completion of their journey but the beginning of a new chapter as only 23 out of Africa’s 55 countries currently have national access to information instruments.
MsTitus explained that the network plans to elevate its advocacy work in Africa and globally, with a view to seeing an increase in the number of countries passing legislation that guarantees their citizens this empowering right.
She said the APAI-WG was committed to further strengthening the right to information through a campaign for a legally binding mechanism to support the right in Africa.
According to her, “It would be remiss not to acknowledge the critical importance of access to information which in many instances has meant the difference between life and death, particularly as the world faces a global health crisis. The impact of the coronavirus has brought unprecedented challenges for our societies, both nationally and globally. Public authorities have been faced with significant decisions that affect public health, civil liberties and people’s prosperity. The public’s right to access information about such decisions is vital.”
MsTitus stated that access to information, and by association transparency, cultivate accountability and engagement, adding that Governments that are intentional about being transparent and sharing information proactively, promote a culture of engagement, inclusive decision-making and ultimately trust.]]>
The U.S. State Department has released guidance to assist U.S. companies seeking to prevent their products or services with surveillance capabilities from being misused by foreign government end-users to commit human rights abuses.
Announcing the release of the guidance document on September 30, 2020, State Department spokesman, Mr. Morgan Ortagus, noted that “Too often, products or services with surveillance capabilities are misused by foreign governments to stifle dissent; harass human rights defenders; intimidate minority communities; discourage whistle-blowers; chill free expression; target political opponents, journalists, and lawyers; or interfere arbitrarily or unlawfully with privacy.”
He accused Governments of employing these items as part of a broader state apparatus of oppression that violates and abuses human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression, religion or belief, and association, and the right of peaceful assembly.
Mr. Ortagus said: “To help minimize this risk, the U.S. Department of State developed voluntary human rights due diligence guidance to help U.S. businesses conduct a human rights impact assessment on relevant products or services, and to provide them with a series of considerations to weigh prior to engaging in transactions with governments.”
Describing the guidance as “a first-of-its-kind tool” to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights on this issue, he explained that it is intended to be particularly helpful for U.S. businesses that want to undertake a human rights review when the U.S. government does not require an authorization for export.
The State Department said in the document that products or services with intended and unintended surveillance capabilities have the potential to provide positive contributions to a country’s economic, defense, and societal well being.
For example, it noted, such products or services can be used to strengthen government end-user network security in a rights-protecting manner such as protecting election systems from interference. Therefore, when used appropriately, such products or services can help resolve urgent challenges facing society.
However, the State Department pointed out that at the same time, these products or services can be misused to violate or abuse human rights when exported to foreign government end-users or private end-users that have close relationships with governments that do not demonstrate respect for human rights and rule of law.
It said: “In some cases, foreign governments have misused such products or services to subject entire populations to arbitrary or unlawful surveillance, violating or abusing the right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In other cases, governments employ such products or services as part of a broader State apparatus of oppression that violates and abuses human rights and fundamental freedoms enumerated in the UDHR, including freedoms of expression, religion or belief, association, and peaceful assembly.”
The State Department observed that misuse of such products or services “can take many forms, including to stifle dissent; harass human rights defenders; intimidate minority communities; discourage whistle-blowers; chill free expression; target political opponents, journalists, and lawyers; or interfere arbitrarily or unlawfully with privacy.”
It stressed that arbitrary or unlawful interference with individual privacy is a particular concern since such interference may also impede the enjoyment of other human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, hold opinions without interference, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and religion or belief.
The Statement Department described these and other rights as being among the foundations of any society, saying they underpin a rules-based international order.]]>
The fight to contain the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is hurting digital rights in Africa, according to the report of a new study released in September, which documents the harms to digital rights and their effects as experienced in various countries on the continent.
Titled “State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2020: Resetting Digital Rights Amidst The Covid-19 Fallout”, the 49-page report calls on governments to review and revise broad and vague COVID-19 related legislation and other laws that restrict freedom of expression, especially those on fake news, disinformation and misinformation, to ensure they are either repealed or amended to meet the internationally acceptable three-part test of being lawful, necessary and proportionate.
The report, issued by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), noted that measures introduced by some governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as mass surveillance, content moderation to prevent misinformation, contact tracing, and online tracking present new challenges and have significant repercussions for freedom of expression, privacy, access to information, assembly and association.
According to the report, as a result of such measures, there is growing tension between the protection of public health and the protection and promotion of civil liberties, with one of the key challenges to digital rights, especially privacy and personal data protection, being the tracking and monitoring of people’s movements, communications and health data by governments aided by private companies and humanitarian bodies.
The report stated that technologies for mass surveillance have been deployed to collect and process troves of call data records, social media data, and phone location data while there is also usage of contact tracing mobile applications that allow for analysis of data and tracking of the movement of people and their interactions.
It noted that a number of these measures breach the right to privacy, lack sufficient oversight, and do not respect existing data protection principles.
The report said “while some governments have proactively disseminated information on the pandemic, others have been complicit in spreading disinformation about the pandemic, while many others have set up units to fight disinformation”, adding that a related concern has been the adoption by some governments of draconian laws to curb the spread of misinformation, which has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and access to information.
It criticized what it described as the “widespread absence of transparency, accountability, and legal oversight over the emergency measures, many of which are disproportionate and have fallen short of international human rights standards and rule of law.”
The report also highlighted some positive measures since the emergence of the pandemic, citing telecommunication companies such as the MTN, Airtel, Vodafone among others in various African countries that have reduced or in some cases waived the cost of data bundles, online transactions and electronic payments.
It noted that some Internet Service Providers also discounted internet subscription fees and invested further to increase internet access.
The report said the fight against COVID-19 has had a fundamental impact on digital rights and freedoms, including undermining civic participation and, in many countries, deepening the democracy deficit.
It predicted that such effects are likely to persist even after the pandemic is contained unless remedial actions are taken by all relevant stakeholders.
The report proposed numerous “priority actions” by the Government, ICT Companies, Media, and Civil Society to remedy the situation.
It called on governments to respect and promote the role of the media and journalists as a critical source of information and engagement for the public, urging it to end the abuse of cybercrime laws to target government critics, journalists and social media users, through arrests, threats, harassment, and intimidation. ogrammes, including under universal service and access funds, to expand public access to the internet, particularly to enhance digital inclusion for marginalised and underserved groups, communities and areas.
It asked governments to adopt laws, policies and practices to promote digital inclusion, including the zero-rating or reduction of costs of internet-enabled devices, removal of internet taxes, promotion and establishment of internet infrastructure development and digital literacy programmes.
The report also proposed the establishment of legal and policy measures that ensure accountability and transparency in data collection, storage and processing, adding that “governments should also put in place mechanisms to ensure personal data is secured and not misused by unscrupulous individuals during the crisis to violate human rights or implement systems for mass surveillance.”
It called on governments to sign and ratify the African Union Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection, as well as to issue transparency reports detailing their COVID-19 related surveillance activity, such as the tools and technologies used, state agencies and private entities involved, the number of persons whose data were tracked, the types of data collected, entities that accessed the data, and safeguards instituted to guard against misuse of the data and the surveillance apparatus.
The report advocated the reform of state surveillance programmes and publicly designate judicial authority to independently enforce due process safeguards at all times, given current limited judicial oversight over surveillance.