Media Rights Agenda (MRA) on September 21, 2020 condemned the continued detention of Mr. Ime Sunday Silas, an editor with the privately-owned Global Concord newspaper and publisher of the news website, The Profile, and accused the Government of incrementally damaging Nigeria’s human rights record just to satisfy political egos. It called for the immediate release of the journalist from custody.
Mr. Silas was arrested on August 17, 2020 in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, for publishing a report titled “Exposed: Okobo PDP Chapter Chair links GovUdom’s Wife with the Plot to Blackmail Deputy Speaker”. He was accused of cyberstalking allegedly in violation of Section 24 of the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act of 2015.
On August 18, Mr. Silas was charged before a magistrate court and denied bail. His lawyers filed another bail application on August 24, which was granted on September 10. Despite having been granted bail, Mr. Silas has remained in police custody since his arrest.
Condemning the arrest and prolonged detention of the journalist, MRA’s Programme Officer, Mr. John Gbadamosi, said “Mr. Silas’ detention after the court has granted him bail demonstrates the lengths to which authorities are willing to go to silence journalists who are unwilling to dance to their tune. We strongly condemn such arrogant violation of the Constitution and careless disregard for the rights of a citizen.”
According to him, the arrest and detention of Mr. Silas are in breach of Nigeria’s international treaty obligations, particularly Article 66(2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, in which Nigeria, as a Member State of the Economic Community of West African States, agrees to co-operate with other Member States in the area of information and undertakes to “ensure respect for the rights of journalists.” Such arrest, detention and prosecution of journalists has been adjudged by the African Court of Human and People’s Rights to be a violation of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty in its binding judgment in the case of LoheIssaKonate v Burkina Faso, delivered on December 5, 2014.
Mr. Gbadamosi contended that “the arraignment of Mr. Silas for cyberstalking is offensive because the Magistrate Court before which he was charged clearly has no jurisdiction to try the journalist for the offence of cyberstalking under the Cybercrime Act as it is the Federal High Court that is given such jurisdiction by the Law. Both the resort to the Cybercrimes Act and the use of the Magistrate Court, therefore, were simply part of an effort to legitimize the arrest and detention of the journalist to punish him at all cost in abuse of the judicial process when there is no viable case against him.”
Besides, he said, by charging Mr. Silas with cyberstalking under Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act, Nigeria is portraying itself as a lawless country and thereby undermining its international image having regard to the fact that the ECOWAS Court of Justice has only recently, in its judgment in the case between the Incorporated Trustees of Law and Rights Awareness Initiatives and Nigeria, delivered five weeks earlier, on July 10, 2020, ordered Nigeria to repeal or amend the section in accordance with its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The ECOWAS Court held in the judgment that by adopting Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act, Nigeria was in violation of Article 9(2) of the ACHPR and Article 19(3) of the ICCPR, saying that provisions such as those contained in Section 24 of the Cybercrimes Act “are not necessary for a democratic society and disproportionately violate the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Articles 9(2) of the ACHPR and 19 of the ICCPR.”
MRA is therefore calling on Akwa Ibom State government as well as Nigerian Police Force to immediately release Mr. Silas from detention and stop the unlawful arrest and harassment of journalists using Section 24 of Cybercrime Act as a tool to violate the rights.
The organization also called on the Federal Government to intervene in the matter to ensure the release of Mr. Silas, arguing that the Federal Government is legally liable under international law for the actions of both the Akwa Ibom State Government and the Police. It also urged the Government to urgently take steps to formally repeal Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act, particularly in the light of the fact that the entire Cybercrime Act has largely been used against journalists and critics of the government rather than cybercriminals.