In anticipation of Nigeria’s review yesterday at the United Nations Human Rights Council, PEN International released a statement in conjunction with the International Publishers Association expressing concern for the Nigeria’s artisitic community. Writers, filmmakers, musicians, and other writers in Africa’s most densely populated country face government censorship, constant harassment, and even violence despite a 2011 law intended to build a culture of openness in Nigeria, according to the statement.

“As long as impunity reigns for the killing of journalists for their work, talk of freedom of expression for media workers in Nigeria will be nothing but a fig leaf to hide these ongoing violations,” said Ropo Ewenla, Secretary of PEN Nigeria. “We call on the Nigerian authorities to urgently investigate these deaths and to bring anyone responsible to justice.”

The statement highlights the role of state level government in censorship, particularly in states where the Islamist sect Boko Haram (“The Book is Forbidden”) dominates the political and cultural scene.

“As publishers, we respect the right of individuals in Nigeria to choose what they wish to read and we believe that no government should interfere in the publisher-reader relationship,” explained José Borghino, Policy Director at the International Publishers Association. “However, censorship by states in Nigeria conflicts with the federal Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.”

PEN International, together with PEN Nigeria, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Publishers Association, has made a formal submission with the following recommendations to the Nigerian authorities:

  • Refrain from arresting and imprisoning writers and journalists who are exercising their right to freedom of expression;
  • Take concrete steps to address impunity in the killings of journalists, and end threats against writers and journalists to prevent them from exercising their right to freedom of expression;
  • Hold to account federal and state security forces and officials involved in infringing fundamental rights of writers and journalists guaranteed by the Constitution;
  • Actively protect journalists who are threatened by Boko Haram, and allow journalists to investigate state action and human rights issues related to Boko Haram without suffering threats, intimidation, or arrest;
  • End the use of Sharia law in state courts to censor film, music, and literature;
  • Continue to allow the free and unfettered transmission of information online and through digital media;
  • Repeal the colonial-era sedition law in accordance with the 1983 ruling by a court of appeals, specifically articles 50, 51, and 52 of the Criminal Code, and articles 416-422 of the Penal Code.

The full submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review may be found here.