An escalating spate of arrests of journalists and intimidation of bloggers as well as the violent crushing of peaceful protests across Nigeria shows the authorities’ determination to suppress the right to freedom of expression, said Amnesty International, Wednesday, on World Press Freedom Day.
The organisation is urging the federal and state governments to respect international human rights law and the Nigerian constitution by protecting the right to freedom of expression and press freedom including by ensuring that state machinery is not used to harass and intimidate anyone simply for expressing opinions that those in power dislike.
“Escalating arrests of journalists and violent disruption of peaceful protests since the start of 2017 shows staggering decline of freedom of expression and assembly that is pushing Nigeria further down the World Press Freedom Index,” said Osai Ojigho, Country Director at Amnesty International Nigeria.
“The security forces have also consistently used excessive force and intimidation to crack down on Nigerians exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.”
Intimidation of journalists, bloggers
Since January 2017 Nigeria has witnessed a rising pattern of harassment and intimidation of journalists, through threats and arrests for simply doing their job or asking questions those in authority are not comfortable with. So far this year at least eight journalists have been either arrested or intimidated by the authorities in clear violation of the Nigerian constitution, which guarantees the rights to freedom of expression and association.
Some of the 36 state governors have used their control over state security agencies to arrest and subject journalists to all kinds of harassment and intimidation, including charging them on frivolous grounds with the aim of silencing them. So far at least three journalists were arrested in this manner in Kaduna state. On April 20, Midat Joseph, a journalist working with Leadership newspaper was arrested and charged with incitement by the Kaduna State government for an alleged private conversation that took place over a year ago on a WhatsApp group about plan for a protest.
On 16 April, news broke of the murder of Famous Giobaro a journalist with Bayelsa Radio Corporation’s Glory FM in Yenagoa. While it is now suspected that the unknown gunmen were armed robbers, the authorities still have an obligation to promptly and thoroughly investigate the case and bring whoever may be responsible to justice. Only last week, Nigerian Union of Journalists added its voice to the calls to bring suspected killers of journalists to justice.
Since the Cyber Crimes Act was signed into law in 2015, it has been used as a pretext to arbitrarily arrest bloggers and therefore censor Nigerian cyberspace. For example, in August last year, prominent blogger Abubakar Usman was arrested by the anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, who claimed he was detained for activities that contravened the Cyber Crimes Act. However they could not point out the exact provision of the act the blogger contravened and the charges were later dropped.
Although the Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by former President Goodluck Jonathan on 28 May 2011, government institutions and officials regularly deny journalists information, and in some cases threaten them for investigating issues that are in the public interest.
“These recent draconian trends are sending the wrong signal and force journalists to live in perpetual fear for daring to investigate and report on issues of major public interest. In a human-rights respecting society no one should have the power to harass and intimidate individuals for expressing an opinion,” said Osai Ojigho.
In its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Nigeria alongside countries hostile to freedom of the press (122 out of 180 countries ranked, down six places since last year). This is yet another worrying sign that the Nigerian authorities need to do more to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, including press freedom, by curbing all forms of intimidation of journalists.
Amnesty International Nigeria is calling on authorities – both at federal and state levels – to take concrete actions that will assure Nigerians that the country is not slipping into a media clampdown. To this end, the authorities should urgently bring to an end all forms of harassment and intimidation of journalists and the use of fear to deter people from using social media platforms to express their opinions.