Nigerian authorities should immediately drop plans to charge Timothy and Daniel Elombah, editor and chief executive respectively, of the independent Elombah news website, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
A federal court in Abuja is scheduled to arraign the brothers on cybercrime and terrorism-related offenses on March 1, their lawyer Obunike Ohaegbu told CPJ.
“Timothy and Daniel Elombah are journalists and not terrorists who should be free to continue their journalism without legal harassment or fear of going to jail,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal from New York. “Authorities should drop all legal proceedings against them and review Nigeria’s cybercrime law to ensure it is constitutional and is not abused to silence the press.”
Nigerian security forces detained the pair, along with several others, on January 1 for an allegedly defamatory article about Nigerian Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris that was published in the privately owned website Opinion Nigeria, and which the brothers have said they did not write, CPJ documented at the time.
Authorities released Daniel Elombah the same day he was arrested; Timothy was released on 500,000 Nigerian naira (US$1,400) bail after spending 25 days in police custody, according to Ohaegbu.
Elombah reports on the extremist group Boko Haram and has written critically about President Muhammadu Buhari’s son. Daniel Elombah denied that Elombah had anything to do with the article that police said prompted their arrest.
Jeff Okoroafor, the founder and publisher of Opinion Nigeria, told CPJ in January that police requested the article be removed, but that he refused. He said no further action was taken.
When CPJ called the headquarters of the Nigeria police in Abuja, the person who answered the phone said that he was not allowed to speak to journalists, and hung up.
If found guilty, the brothers could each face up to 10 years in jail under the Cybercrime Act, Daniel Elombah told CPJ.
At least four bloggers have been prosecuted under the Cybercrime Act since 2015, according to CPJ research.