Nigeria: Cybercrime Law threatens Press freedom, Internet freedom

No one is safe from prosecution under Nigeria’s  laws criminalizing free speech, said YARPTI.  Nigerian  authorities  are  subjecting  bloggers,activists and journalists  to trials for exercising their right to freedom of speech.Nigerian authorities have used the accusation of cyber stalking to harass and press charges against online critics.

Cyber stalking, which falls under Section 24 of the act, carries a fine of up to 7 million naira and a maximum three-year jail term for anyone convicted of knowingly sending an online message that 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. Since 2015 authorities have prosecuted at least 16 people for speech deemed defamatory toward individuals or state institutions.

These include Musa Babale Azare , Seun Oloketuyi (publisher of Naijahottestgist), Chris Kehinde Nwandu( publisher of Cknnigeria), Abubakar Sidiq Usman ( publisher of Abusidiqu) etc .Seun Oloketuyi was arraigned before a federal high court in Lagos on charges of cyber stalking and defamation over a story alleging that the chief executive of a bank was having an affair. He was remanded in prison and granted bail of 3 million naira on condition he has two sureties. Chris Kehinde Nwandu was arrested for allegedly sharing the Naijahottestgist story on Facebook. He was arraigned two days later on cyber stalking and defamation charges, and was denied bail three times.

Desmond Ike Chima, a blogger who posts on Myemag and E-Nigeria was charged with cyber stalking at a lower magistrate court over an article alleging that the managing director of a bank was having an affair. The lower court granted him bail but he was arraigned before a federal high court the following month. He spent six months in prison.

Nigerians today are being threatened of  facing charges over media post. Precious Nwadike the publisher of Community Watchdog Newspaper was arrested in Owerri and charged to court for criminal defamation. Nwadike’s offence was publishing a story on missing bailout fund on his paper and website. Emmanual Ojo  was charged with criminal libel and conspiracy under the criminal code after a complaint from the Ogun state government over a story alleging the wife of the state governor was involved in money laundering. Ojo fled Nigeria after threats from powerful people became unbearable. Fejiro Oliver the publisher of Secret Reporters was arrested in Uyo and bundled to Lagos over a post on his blog. He stayed in prison for 5 days.

Another blogger and Journalist Kemi Olunloyo was arrested and charged with cybercrime after she published an article on her blog accusing the General Overseer of Salvation Ministries Pastor David Ibiyeomie of infidelity. Kemi  was granted bail  on March 30th, 2017, by a Magistrate court but was arraigned before a federal high court immediately and remanded in prison. She has stayed almost a month in Port Harcourt  prison. She was charged alongside a reporter who published her account of the story, which she claims was a letter sent to her by church members of pastor Ibiyeomie alleging that he is corrupt and adulterous.

Freedom of expression and the press is guaranteed under Section 39 of Nigeria’s constitution. But restrictive laws which allow for journalists and bloggers to be arrested for reporting critically on politicians and others, violates that right. The Nigerian parliament should urgently reform all the laws that  violates freedom of expression and internet freedom .

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