(Washington, D.C.) — As peaceful protests calling for disbanding the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) have spread across Nigeria, at least 12 demonstrators have been killed and dozens more protesters and journalists injured by police and military forces. PEN America condemns this shocking display of violence meant to quash the free expression and assembly rights of Nigerians and calls for the immediate cessation of state violence against civilians. 

“The use of indiscriminate and senseless violence to suppress peaceful protests against police violence in Nigeria is as heartbreaking as it is horrific,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of free expression at risk programs at PEN America. “More than two decades after the end of military rule, Nigeria risks losing the democratic gains achieved in Africa’s most populous country. Nigerians have a right to address their grievances through free expression and public demonstration, and journalists have a right to cover those protests without government reprisal, much less state-sponsored violence. As celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put in a recent op-ed, the youth-led, highly restrained, and resilient ‘End SARS’ protest movement should be celebrated, not violently put down. We urge President Buhari to call a halt to this violence, preserve the rights of protesters and the press, and preserve the space for expression and communication online, as well. The government must recommit to defending fundamental rights and freedoms, which are essential to a strong and healthy democracy.” 

This week’s escalation of violence against protesters is only the latest development in an alarming trend of assaults on free expression in Nigeria: including recent attacks on journalists, media outlets, students, civil society and religious leaders, artists, and musicians. Moreover, there is heightened concern that the government may shut down Nigeria’s internet as a means of subduing the protests should they continue–a move condemned by PEN America and other members of the #KeepItOn Coalition in an open letter earlier this week. 

“Now is a pivotal moment for the international community to reject Nigeria’s prolonged encroachment on the right to free expression. We must stand with Nigerians as they fight for what should have been freely granted to them in the first place: the ability to speak their minds and defend their communities without fear of reprisal from the government that should protect them,” PEN America’s Karlekar said.