Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and 49 other Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have renewed their call on the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) to intervene to secure the immediate release of Mr Omoyele Sowore.
Specifically, it called on the Federal Government to unambiguously condemn attacks against journalists and pursue the course of justice for the journalists who have been unjustly victimized, and on the National Assembly to undertake a review of press laws in Nigeria and amend or outrightly repeal those that are anti-press freedom while constituting relics of the military era.
In a statement issued on September 18, 2019, the Coalition expressed great alarm over “the rapidly deteriorating press freedom situation in the country as occasioned by unrelenting attacks on Nigerian journalists and media institutions in a manner reminiscent of jungle justice.”
Especially worrisome, according to CWPPF us is the cynical way and manner the judiciary has been co-opted into this range of assaults, the punitive nature of its decisions “which suggest a long-term sinister motive to suppress press freedom and critical journalism. It pointed out that this situation is worsened by the continuous lack of due process and respect for the constitution in reaction to the supposed grievances against the concerned journalists.
Pointing out that it has never been this bad since the return of the country to democratic rule, CWPPF said this trend must be halted.
The group cited five recent cases of attacks on journalists and media houses which took place in September 2019 and have led to its concern over press freedom situation in Nigeria.
On September 18, 2019 of the Lagos headquarters and offices of Sahara Reporters which was also cordoned off by a combined team of armed military and police personnel ostensibly on the account of the planned protest over the unjust incarceration of the founder, Mr. Omoyele Sowore.
In another incident cited by the group, Ms Mary Ekere, a reporter working with The Post, a local news platform in Akwa Ibom State who covers the state house of assembly was arrested on the September 16, 2019 for on the ludicrous allegation that she was taking pictures of officials of the Akwa Ibom government task force who were conducting a raid on a popular recreational spot called Ibom Plaza, in Uyo, the state capital. She was consequently molested, arrested, charged and sent into detention. She was released after spending two nights in jail.
Again, it cited the case of the case of Agba Jalingo, publisher of Cross River Watch, who was initially hounded for criticising the state governor and who after being apprehended was slammed with terrorism charges under which he is now being held, while his health deteriorates. CWPPF pointed out that His, indeed constitutes a vivid example of abuse of laws using trumped-up criminal offences to suppress the press for holding the government accountable.
Since the arrest of Agba on August 26, 2019, he has been charged with a potpourri of offences including; “acts of treason, treasonable felony, and threatening through various publications on www.crossriverwatch.com and social media, using malicious publications, and instigating the people of Nigeria to stage protest for the removal of the Governor of Cross River State”.
Mr. Tony Okafor, a Punch correspondent was harassed over the newspaper’s reports on a suspended senior lecturer of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Dr. Peter Ekemezie. He was arrested by members of the Nigerian police force at Aroma junction, a known meeting point for journalists in Awka, Anambra State.
Mr. Femi Adeshina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, issued a verbal threat against a statehouse reporter, Mr. John Ameh, a reporter with the Punch Newspapers.
Continuing further, CWPPF disclosed that its Press Attack Tracker, an online platform for tracking attacks on the media and journalists has recorded 70 attacks on the media in 2019 alone, the implication of which is that an average of two journalists have experienced some form of attack every week since January 2019. This figure, the Coalition said, is baffling and highly reprehensible, adding it would come as no surprise at all if Nigeria falls even further down in the Press Freedom Index for 2019.
It accused government, security agencies and quasi-military forces at all levels of complicit in this increasing incidents of press suppression. It accused the named perpetrators of lack of concern for democratic values, fundamental human rights and the primacy of the constitution with their posture. CWPPF pointed out that the state of Press Freedom is indicative of a country walking backwards and dancing dangerously on the precipice of a dictatorship with zero tolerance for dissent.
The coalition reiterates that for democracy to survive and in fact thrive, it needs a strong press; standing as the fourth estate of the realm and holding everyone to account, government and its actors inclusive. It added, where the press environment is weak, afraid and/or silenced, democracy will suffer and when democracy suffers everyone loses.