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MRA faults continued detention of journalist, urges release

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Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has condemned the continued detention of Mr. Ime Sunday Silas, an editor with the privately-owned Global Concord Newspapers, publisher of a news website, The Profile.

According to MRA’s Programme Officer, Mr. John Gbadamosi, Silas was arrested on August 17, 2020 in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, for publishing a report titled “Exposed: Okobo PDP Chapter Chair links Gov Udom’s Wife with Plot to Blackmail Deputy Speaker”.

The journalist was accused of cyberstalking, allegedly in violation of Section 24 of the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act of 2015.

On August 18, Silas was charged before a magistrate court and denied bail. His lawyers filed another bail application on August 24, which was granted on September 10. Despite the fact that he has been granted bail, Silas has remained in police custody since his arrest.

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The MRA official contended that the arrest and detention of Silas are in breach of Nigeria’s international treaty obligations, particularly Article 66 (2)(c) of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty, in which the country, as a member state of the Economic Community of West African States, agrees to co-operate with others in the area of information and undertakes to “ensure respect for the rights of journalists.”

According to the MRA, such arrest, detention and prosecution of journalists has been adjudged by the African Court of Human and People’s Rights to be a violation of the Revised ECOWAS Treaty in its binding judgment in the case of Lohe Issa Konate v Burkina Faso delivered on December 5, 2014.

Gbadamosi further said that the arraignment of Silas for cyberstalking was offensive “because the Magistrate Court before which he was charged clearly has no jurisdiction to try the journalist for the offence of cyberstalking under the Cybercrime Act as it is the Federal High Court that is given such jurisdiction by the law.”

To him, both the resort to the Cybercrimes Act and the use of the Magistrate Court, therefore, were simply part of an effort to legitimise the arrest and detention of the journalist to punish him at all cost in abuse of the judicial process when there is no viable case against him.

MRA urged the Akwa Ibom State government and the Nigeria Police Force to immediately release Silas from detention and stop the unlawful arrest and harassment of journalists using Section 24 of Cybercrime Act as a tool to violate their rights.

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