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How can my right to freedom of expression be breached?

A right is breached when the government stops people from enjoying their right through illegal means. Therefore, the government breaches the right to freedom expression when it makes it impossible for people to express themselves or attack people for their expression.

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Breaches to the right to freedom of expression may take several forms.

A few examples are presented below:

  • Criminalizing dissent or attack on criticisms focused on the government.

This means punishing people that criticize the government or members of an opposition party. This can be done by preventing members of the public from criticizing the activities of the government using force, intimidation or harassment;

  • Government actions against freedom of thought and opinion.

One aspect of freedom of expression is freedom to hold opinions and ideas. People generate their ideas and opinion through what they read, hear or learn in school. Therefore, when the government bans privately owned schools or censoring school curricular to meet political objective, they breach the right to freedom of expression. In addition, a government directive to remove Nigerian history from the curriculum of secondary schools in Nigeria is a breach of freedom of expression.

  • Illegal censorship.

Censorship means banning or suppressing the publication of news, music or other forms of art. Censorship is illegal when it is done without the backing of the law. One recent example of illegal censorship is the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission’s fine to Arise TV, AIT and Channels Television for their coverage of the EndSARS protest. This is a breach of freedom of expression. Other forms of illegal censor ship could be the refusal or restriction of license to run a media house or making laws that will require government scrutiny of any information before it is broadcast to the public.

  • Refusal to disclose information

Government secrecy, which can manifest in refusal to grant access or make available information that is of public interest. For example, the government refusal to publish the breakdown of salaries of government officials is a breach of the right to freedom of expression.

  • Blackmail and threat of harm

Government’s harassment or threat of harm to citizen for participating in a protest or for a post on social media are breaches of the right to freedom of expression. Other examples of breaches are freezing bank accounts, arresting individuals for criticizing the conduct of the government and seizing international passports of protesters.

  • Internet shutdown

Given the rise in online activism, government around the world have resorted to shutting down the internet or blocking access to website or social media platforms in breach of the right to online expression.

  • Over policing of elections

Elections, referenda and plebiscites are instrument of expression in a democracy. The government therefore has the duty to ensure that citizens are encouraged to use this instrument. Therefore, the intimidation of voters during elections by agents of the government or security agencies is a breach of the right to freedom of expression.

  • Illegal surveillance, interception of communication and collection of personal data.

Sharing one’s opinion is an important part of the right to freedom of expression. However, sometimes when people share such opinions about what is happening in the society, they are put under surveillance by government security agencies, track their devices, collect personal information and sometimes go to the extent of arresting them. These constitute a breach on the right to freedom of expression.

  • Penalizing the use of citizen’s native language.

Example; punishing a student for speaking Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa in school.

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