IPC Condemns Attack on Bayelsa Blogger

The International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos-Nigeria has strongly condemned the recent attack on Mr Saint Mienpamo, a blogger who was physically assaulted and abducted by suspected militants in Bayelsa, raising fresh worries about some concerted move to asphyxiate the freedom of speech in the country. According to Sahara Reporters, Mienpamo a former senior special assistant

The International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos-Nigeria has strongly condemned the recent attack on Mr Saint Mienpamo, a blogger who was physically assaulted and abducted by suspected militants in Bayelsa, raising fresh worries about some concerted move to asphyxiate the freedom of speech in the country.

According to Sahara Reporters, Mienpamo a former senior special assistant to Bayelsa State Government was physically assaulted and abducted by suspected militants accompanied by police officers at about 6:30am on May 29th, 2018 in his residence over an alleged illegal post on Facebook. Mienpamo said he was stripped and beaten up while the suspected militants took pictures of his nudity.

The Director of IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade in a statement, described the incident as an “unwelcome assault as the blogger in question was assaulted and abducted because of a mere allegation”.“The rights of Journalists and Bloggers should be respected online and offline; Police authorities should seek redress legally and not take laws into their hands whenever they have issues with reports”, Arogundade added, calling on the Bayelsa State Commissioner of Police to probe the incident and take the necessary actions.

The increasing attacks on journalists are beginning to raise concern about some insidious move by government and non state actors to abridge the freedom of speech. Reports from Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) reflects that not less than twenty incidents of assault, threat, battery, arrest, kidnap, killing and invasion involving journalists and media institutions were recorded in the past one year.

In 2017 alone, at least seven incidents including arrests, detainments and attacks were documented. These include the case of Mr Luka Binniyat who was ordered by the Court to be detained on charges of breach of public trust and false reporting over an article he wrote for the Vanguard and a publisher, Mr Charles Otu who was shot and badly beaten for criticizing the government of southern Nigeria. Other cases documented were Nigerian Blogger, Ms Kemi Omololu-Olunloyo who was jailed for at least 69 days for defamation charges.

In January 2017, Nigerian Army operatives stormed the offices of Premium Times and arrested the publisher of the online newspaper, Mr Dapo Olorunyomi, and the Judiciary Correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu. The arrests followed a story about the counter-insurgency operations in the North-East, where the military are battling the pro-Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram.

In February, the police arrested the online editor of Vanguard newspaper, Aliyu Adekunle, for taking the photographs of police officers bullying commercial motorcycle operators

Recently, in 2018, Mr Timothy Elombah and Mr Daniel Elombah, editor and chief executive respectively of a news website elombah were arrested on defamatory charges and were scheduled to be arraigned on Cybercrime and terrorism-related offenses. If found guilty, the brothers could each face up to 10 years in jail under the Cybercrime Act, according to reports from CPJ. Since the inception of the Cybercrime Act since 2015, not less than 4 bloggers have been prosecuted under this Act.

More recently in March 2018, Mr Tony Ezimakor, the Abuja bureau chief of the privately owned Daily Independent newspaper, was detained and compelled to reveal sources.

Mr Jones Abiri, the publisher of the Weekly Source tabloid newspaper, was arrested by nine armed agents of Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS), also known as Department of State Services (DSS), at his office in Yenagoa, in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern state of Bayelsa, on July 21, 2016.

Freedom of Expression has become one of the major challenges of journalism practice in Nigeria. Media practitioners have faced a lot of attacks and oppression in their line of duty making them to either stop practicing or work in a hostile environment.

Nigeria continues to rank high among countries where freedom of expression is under threat. Undoubtedly there are far more violations of the right to freedom of expression in Nigeria today than there were many years ago.

The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.

The recent introduction of the hate speech bill that recommends death sentence for purveyors of hate speech is perceived as another attempt by the Nigerian government to further restrict the freedom of expression of Nigerians, especially online journalists and bloggers.

Any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person shall die by hanging upon conviction, reads the new bill by the Senate. The bill, which reflects the growing concern over the spate of violence in the nation, was sponsored by the spokesman of the upper chamber, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger).

It also seeks the establishment of an ‘Independent National Commission for Hate Speeches’, which shall enforce hate speech laws across the country, ensure the elimination of the menace and advise the Federal Government for offences such as harassment on the grounds of ethnicity or racial contempt, a culprit shall be sentenced to “not less than a five-year jail term or a fine of not less than N10 million or both.”

The bill says that “A person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and/or directs the performance of any material, written and/or visual, which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior, commits an offence, if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.”

The commission shall discourage persons, institutions, political parties and associations from advocating or promoting discrimination or discriminatory practices through the use of hate speeches; promote tolerance, understanding and acceptance of diversity in all aspects of national life and encourage full participation by all ethnic communities in the social, economic, cultural and political life of other communities. It shall also plan, supervise, coordinate and promote educational and training programmes to create public awareness, support and advancement of peace and harmony among ethnic communities and racial groups.

It shall furthermore promote respect for religious, cultural, linguistic and other forms of diversity in a plural society; promote equal access by persons of all ethnic communities and racial groups to public or other services and facilities provided by the government.

Many fear that if the bill becomes a law, it would certainly pose a major threat to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and safety of journalists.

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