Journalist arrested, charged under cybercrime law in Nigeria

Nigerian authorities should immediately drop charges against journalist Obinna Don Norman, release him from prison, and reform the 2015 cybercrime act to ensure it is not used to prosecute journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Mr Norman, owner and editor-in-chief of online news outlet The Realm News, was arrested on March 1 by police in Umuahia, the capital of Nigeria’s southeastern Abia state, while he was at local radio station Flo FM to discuss politics on air, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ from Afara prison in Umuahia.

The day he was arrested, Mr Norman was charged in an Abia state magistrate court under Nigeria’s 2015 cybercrime act, he told CPJ.

During a second court appearance today, he was charged under an Abia state anti-terrorism and kidnapping law from 2009, he said. Norman is alleged to have defamed and harassed Abia state senator Theodore Orji of the People’s Democratic Party, according to the journalist and two charge sheets reviewed by CPJ.

“Abia state authorities should drop the charges against journalist Obinna Don Norman, ensure his release, and cease efforts to intimidate him,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Nigeria’s cybercrime act has too often been used to silence journalists in the country and the additional charge against Norman indicates that authorities are intent on harassing the press.”

The charge sheets allege that the offenses were committed on or before March 21, 2018, but do not specify any articles or comments related to the charges. Mr Norman and Realm News editor Rotimi Akinola told CPJ they believe the charges are reprisal for Norman’s reporting and criticism of the Abia state government, and are an attempt to silence the press ahead of the gubernatorial election scheduled for March 9, in which Okezie Ikpeazu, a People’s Democratic Party member, is running for re-election.

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