The Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP have appealed to the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, to prevail on the federal government to end the ongoing intimidation and harassment of journalists.
The appeal was contained in a joint statement signed by the NUJ National President, Abdulwaheed Odusile and the executive director, SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, in Abuja on Friday.
This is following the arrest of Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of the online newspaper Premium Times, as well as the paper’s judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu, by plain clothed policemen on Thursday evening.
In the statement, NUJ and SERAP said they were concerned “about the Nigeria’s 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.”
Part of the appeal read: “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 last night but asked to report to the police this (Friday) morning.
“We are seriously concerned that they may be re-arrested and detained for a prolonged period.”
The statement added 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.”
“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,” it read.
The joint statement also noted 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.
Part of the act provides for a fine of N7 million naira and a maximum three-year jail term for 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 have infact 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.
The groups therefore want the UN to “publicly express concerns about the continuing clampdown … of journalists, online newspapers and bloggers” including “Premium Times and its journalists.”
They also want state governments and police authorities to end increasing persecution of other journalists, online newspapers and bloggers in their various states.
Similarly, the NUJ and SERAP called on 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.”
The groups also 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.”