The influential New York-based Human Rights Watch has condemned the ongoing crackdown on ENDSARS protestors, the freezing of bank accounts belonging to its alleged ringleaders and sponsors and the fines imposed on three of the country’s independent media.
Criticizing the actions of the federal government and its agencies like the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Directorate of State Security (DSS) and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), it warned that they amount to the abridgment of fundamental human rights on freedom of speech and association.
The human rights organization which made its stance known in a press statement titled “Punitive financial moves against protesters,” called on the Federal government to unblock the freezed accounts and to withdraw the fines imposed on Channels Television, Arise TV and African Independent Television (AIT) for allegedly fueling the violent protest by airing unsubstantiated personal video recordings of the Lekki shootings by military men.
In a press statement made available to newsmen, and a copy which is in possession of Saturday Sun, the human rights organisation condemned Nigerian authorities use of financial coercive measures to suppress the protests staged against police brutality.
“Any attempts to suppress legitimate protests and genuine calls for accountability by arbitrarily blocking funds would be a gross abuse of power,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Such action would indicate a wider problem of malfeasance and impunity that threaten democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.”
The organization said it hinges its reactions on findings from eight Nigerian participants in the protests, it claimed to have interviewed between October 23 and 27, 2020. While seven of them, including representatives of three organisations, it interviewed through telephone and secure messaging apps claimed that their accounts were frozen after receiving or disbursing funds related to the protests, the eighth person, a protest organizer said that he and other organizers had received reports from over 10 vendors and donors confirming that their bank accounts were blocked after receiving or donating money to support the protests.
The body noted: “those affected said their bank accounts were frozen without any prior notice or legal proceedings, and in all cases bank staff had said that the restrictions were based on Central Bank directives. Bank staff told at least four people that the directive was related to transaction records that included references to EndSARS.”
It listed the affected organizations and individuals to include: Feminist Coalition, a civil society group which allegedly received donations, N25 million (about US$55,000), to support the protests through a fund set up by a Nigerian online payment processing company, Flutterwave and Adewunmi Emoruwa of Gatefield, a Nigerian public strategy and communications firm which provided financial support for independent journalists and citizens to document the protests, through an existing initiative called Gatefield Impact.
The initiative, the statement noted, is aimed at supporting independent journalism in Nigeria. It added: “As of October 15, Gatefield had disbursed funds to 23 journalists and sent airtime for phone internet access to about 100 people documenting the protests out of a total of about 30 journalists and 260 other people it planned to support.”