Groups demand release of lawyer jailed for contempt
Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) has condemned the arrest and imprisonment of human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, and demanded his immediate release.
Following an altercation during court proceedings on Wednesday, the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom State, Justice Ekaette Obot, had ordered the imprisonment of Effiong for one month.
In a statement, yesterday, the coalition of civil society organisations called on the Chief Judge to immediately reverse the order and free Effiong.
The CSOs stated: “His imprisonment is a blatant violation of his fundamental human rights of freedom of expression as enshrined in Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We further call on the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Uyo chapter and the National Judicial Council (NJC) to probe this matter urgently.”
Following a libel suit filed by Governor Udom Emmanuel against Leo Ekpenyong, a lawyer, over a publication in which the plaintiff was accused of “buying judgment” from the 2019 National Assembly Election Tribunal, Ekpenyong’s counsel, Effiong, filed a motion on notice asking Obot to reassign the case to a neutral judge and prayed that the matter be heard de novo.
Committing Inihebe to prison for contempt, the judge ordered that the defence lawyer be taken to Uyo Correctional Centre and reportedly ignored appeals by other counsel in the courtroom.
According to AGFCS, the order was given after Effiong raised the issue of “feeling intimidated and threatened” by the presence of armed policemen in the courtroom and applied to the court to have the policemen excused from the courtroom.
He argued: “While the court can summarily exercise its power to convict a person on the basis of contempt, the Nigerian courts have decided in a long line of cases that “the law of contempt does not exist for personal gain or glory; it only serves to uphold and promote the efficient administration of justice”.
The coalition comprises Spaces for Change (S4C), Vision Spring Initiative (VSI), Rule of Law and Accountability Advocacy Centre (RULAAC), Youth Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC) and Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN)
Others include Stakeholder Democracy Network, Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy and Development (FENRAD Nigeria), Building Blocks for Peace Foundation, Accountability Lab, Centre for Citizens with Disability and Justice Development and Peace Centre (JDPC) Lagos.