Following the recent arrest and release of Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of the online newspaper Premium Times, as well as the paper’s judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu, by men of the Nigeria police, the Nigerian Union of Journalists ( NUJ) and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP ) have issued a statement appealing to David Kaye ,United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, to urge the federal government to put an end to the incessant arrest and harassment of journalists in the country.
Specifically, NUJ and SERAP want the UN to “Request the Federal Government and state governments to drop all charges against journalists, online newspapers and bloggers” and to “insist that the Nigerian authorities should not criminalize or subject anyone to harassment, intimidation, persecution or reprisals simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression and doing their job as journalists and bloggers.”
In a joint statement signed by Abdulwaheed Odusile, NUJ National President and Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive director, SERAP in Abuja, the two groups expressed concern “about the Nigerian government’s erosion of media freedom and continuing readiness of its agencies and state governments to limit the operation of online newspapers and bloggers in the country.”
“The arbitrary arrest of Mr Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of online newspaper Premium Times, and the judiciary correspondent of the online newspaper, Evelyn Okakwu would seem to mark an intensification of a crackdown on media freedom that has been going on for some time now.
“Both Olorunyomi and Okakwu were released but asked to report back to the police”.
“We are seriously concerned that they may be re-arrested and detained for a prolonged period,” the statement said.
Furthermore, NUJ and SERAP stated that “the crackdown and the increasingly restrictive media atmosphere and impermissible restrictions to freedom of expression has damaged Nigeria’s democratic credentials and violated its international human rights obligations.”
Both groups added that “the crackdown has also impeded the ability of journalists, online newspapers, bloggers and the media in general to hold government authorities to account or scrutinize their activities”.
The joint statement pointed out that government was relying on the “obnoxious and unlawful Cybercrime Act of 2015” which was signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan, to continue to harass journalists.
Some of the provisions of the act, states that a fine of N7 million naira and a maximum three-year jail term would be given to anyone found guilty of posting an online information which “he knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another.”
However the groups argued that the Cybercrime Act is “vaguely worded and prone to misuse and has in fact been repeatedly and arbitrarily used against journalists.”
“The use of the Cybercrime Act has created an environment of intolerance, with a chilling, inhibiting effect on freedom of thought and discussion,” SERAP and NUJ opined.
Ending the statement, the group asked the UN to “publicly express concerns about the continuing clampdown … of journalists, online newspapers and bloggers” including “Premium Times and its journalists.”
In addition, they also want state governments and police authorities to curb the incessant arrest of journalists, online newspapers and bloggers in their various states.
Both groups urged the UN to “hold that the Cybercrime Act is inconsistent and incompatible with freedom of expression and media freedom standards” and therefore urge the Nigerian government “to withdraw and repeal the obnoxious Act.”