Authorities in Nigeria should swiftly drop all charges against journalists Aiyelabegan Babatunde AbdulRazaq and Oluwatoyin Luqman Bolakale and allow them to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Tuesday.
On September 11, police officers detained AbdulRazaq and Bolakale, publishers of the independent news websites Just Event Online and The Satcom Media respectively, over their critical reporting about a local politician, according to the two journalists and their lawyer Taofiq Olateju, all of whom spoke with CPJ.
According to the charge sheet, reviewed by CPJ, the September 9 articles contained allegations of abuse of office by Jumoke Monsura Gafar, the former principal private secretary to north-central Kwara State governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, who is not related to the journalist.
On September 13, the two journalists were charged with cyberstalking—punishable by up to three years in jail and a 7 million naira (US$9,024) fine—and conspiracy—which carries a penalty of up to seven years in jail—under the Cybercrimes Act, according to the two journalists, their lawyer, and the charge sheet.
On September 20, the court granted the journalists bail and set a hearing date for October 4, the journalists and their lawyer said.
AbdulRazaq and Bolakale told CPJ that officers at the police headquarters in the state capital, Ilorin, called them in for questioning about their sources on September 11 and they explained that their reports were based on a press release from a political lobby group, which they had cited. The journalists said the police asked them for a contact for the signatory of the press release, which they were unable to provide.
“Authorities in Nigeria should swiftly drop all charges against journalists Aiyelabegan Babatunde AbdulRazaq and Oluwatoyin Luqman Bolakale and allow them to work without intimidation,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ Africa Program Coordinator, in Durban, South Africa. “Yet again we see Nigeria’s cybercrime law being abused to prosecute the press and the police intimidating journalists to reveal their sources. When will lawmakers act to ensure journalism is not criminalized?”
The Satcom Media published an article on September 18 retracting its original report and adding that “we never aimed at tarnishing the image of Ms Jumoke Gafar.” Just Event Online published the same message on its Facebook page. Just Event Online was offline at the time of publication, which AbdulRazaq said was due to a network issue unrelated to the case.
At the time of publication, The Satcom Media’s original report was still online.
The chairperson of the Association of Kwara Online Media Practitioners, Shola Salihu Taofeek, said the police also asked a third journalist, Oyewale Oyelola, managing editor of the Factual Times news website, to come to the station but he went into hiding for fear of being detained. The outlet also published an article on September 9 about Gafar, based on the same press release.
Kwara State police spokesperson Okasanmi Ajayi told CPJ that he was aware of the case but could not comment because it was before the court. CPJ’s calls and text messages to Gafar requesting comment did not receive a reply.