Media rights advocates on Thursday criticised the police for the New Year day arrest of Nigerian journalists, describing the development as “traumatic” and “unwarranted.”
Brothers Daniel and Timothy Elombah were arrested in an early morning raid on their country home in Nnewi, Anambra State, by the police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, SARS.
The brothers were moved to Abuja a few hours after their arrest on January 1. A third person who was arrested with them was also taken with them to Abuja and they were all detained at the SARS facility in the country’s capital city.
The brothers were arraigned before a magistrate’s court in Abuja and an administrative bail was granted to Daniel Elombah. His brother, Timothy, has, however, remained in custody since then.
The brothers were accused by the police of publishing an opinion piece critical of Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris, an “ignominious” development the advocates said was a direct affront to journalism and press freedom.
The Elombahs have denied publishing the article on their website. They said the police saw the piece on another website and assumed that they were responsible for it without any evidence.
After condemning the conduct of the police as being characteristic of “the men of the underworld,” The Coalition for Press Freedom and Whistleblower Protection (CPFWP), a coalition of media and civil society organisations, said the police should immediately free the journalists and desist from criminalising journalism.
“While the Coalition hopes that the judiciary which has been invited to offer redress against fundamental rights violations by Daniel Elombah would not only weigh in as expected, we call on the appropriate authorities of the federal government and indeed the international community to take note of this ill-advised move by the police to apply state apparatus to matters of a civil nature,” the group said.
Police spokesperson, Jimoh Moshood, told PREMIUM TIMES the Elombah brothers’ arrest should not be blamed on Mr. Idris.
“The law caught up with them, not the Inspector-General,” Mr. Idris said. “The matter has been taken to court and the people should allow justice take its course rather than blaming the Inspector-General who did not create the laws under which the suspects were arrested.”
Mr. Moshood said the police would ensure that the matter is diligently prosecuted with absolute fairness to the suspects.
But in its statement, the media rights advocates said the police should stop meddling in civil matters like a publication that would at worse be libellous.
“While we acknowledge that the media and journalists are not above the law, any redress against perceived libellous content should be sought within the ambit of the law,” the CPFWP said.