By Alex Enumah in Abuja
Global right body, Amnesty International (AI) has decried the poor state of human rights in the country particularly as it affects the right to freedom of information and has called on the federal government to investigate and bring to book all those found culpable in attacks on journalists in the country.
AI in a press briefing on Monday in Abuja disclosed that no less than 19 journalists had been arrested and detained on frivolous allegations between January to October 2019.
Country Director, Amnesty International Nigeria, Osai Ojigho in an opening remark noted that if Nigeria must make meaningful progress the press should not be so gagged as it is been experienced currently.
She said, “At least 19 journalists were detained at various times this year. Increasingly, the human rights cost of receiving and sharing information to journalists, bloggers and activists comes with dangerous consequences, forcing journalists, bloggers and activists to operate in a climate of fear”.
Speaking on the theme: Attack on Freedom of Expression in Nigeria, she lamented that media practitioners are facing increased risk for publishing articles and demanding accountability from the authorities.
Ojigho disclosed that investigation by AI revealed a disturbing escalation in the authorities’ threat and attacks against Nigerian journalists who have expressed critical opinions of government on both conventional and social media.
The escalating clampdown on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom according to the country director, is mostly perpetrated by the Police, the military and the officials of the Department of State Services (DSS), which occurs when journalists seek access to information, share information or express critical views that could drive public opinion.
“Some journalists who spoke with the organisation confirmed that they came under intense pressure from security agents to reveal their sources of information, particularly when they published stories that focused on corruption, elections and armed conflict”, she said.
Amnesty International noted that the inability of Nigerian authorities to investigate cases of indiscriminate arrest, detention and prosecution of journalists and media practitioners ensures that perpetrators are not held to account for the human rights violations.
“Victims who suffered arbitrary arrest and detention told Amnesty international that they were tortured and pressured to write confessional statements which were used to prosecute them in court. While many of them faced indiscriminate charges like defamation, terrorism and cybertalking.
“Others had charges like kidnapping, criminal trespass and theft of state documents brought against them. Worse still, many of the journalists were prosecuted under cybercrime Act and Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2013, alongside other laws”, she added.
AI therefore called on the federal government to end violations and abuses of rights to freedom of expression, information, media freedom and personal liberty by ensuring that journalists, bloggers and media activists have access to information and are able to do their work freely without any fear of reprisal.
Government, it noted should investigate allegations of attacks and bring justice to anyone suspected to be responsible through fair trials, adopt appropriate measures towards effective realisation of rights to freedom of expression and personal liberty.
It called on government to take urgent steps to amend the Cybercrime Act (2015) and other laws that restrict the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of information, media freedom and personal liberty and to bring such laws in strict compliance with Nigeria’s international human rights obligations and commitment.
AI also wants government to issue clear directives to police, DSS and other security agents to refrain from applying existing laws in a manner that restricts or interferes with rights to freedom of expression and person liberty of journalists.