By Amos Fofung
New York-based press advocacy group, Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ has urged authorities in Nigeria to drop all charges and release journalist, Obinna Don Norman, currently detained at Afara prison in Umuahia.
Arrested on March 1, 2019, Obinna Don Norman, owner and editor-in-chief of online news outlet The Realm News, appeared and first got charged in an Abia state magistrate court under Nigeria’s 2015 cybercrime act, and during his second court appearance today, March 7, 2019, he was charged under the state’s anti-terrorism and kidnapping law.
According to CPJ, Norman is alleged to have defamed and harassed Abia state senator Theodore Orji of the People’s Democratic Party.
“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.” She adds.
Norman’s March 1 charge sheet, which CPJ reviewed, listed four alleged offenses from sections 24 and 27 of Nigeria’s 2015 cybercrime act: cyberstalking, sending defamatory messages using a computer, using a computer to send messages “for the purpose of causing public hatred,” and using a computer to “bully, threaten and harass.”
The March 7 charge sheet alleged that Norman threatened Orji’s life with “messages through [the] internet and phone calls,” which is punishable under Abia state’s 2009 anti-terrorism and kidnapping law.
Norman, CPJ holds, said he was told during the March 7 court appearance that he would be held in detention until April 24; his lawyer has filed a bail application with a federal high court petitioning for an earlier release.
Those convicted under Nigeria’s cybercrime act can face fines into tens of thousands of dollars and years in prison, CPJ reported.
Abia Police Commissioner, Ene Okun told CPJ that Norman was arrested because the journalist was listed as “wanted” in an official bulletin. In December 2018, the previous police commissioner had declared Norman “wanted” in an unrelated cybercrime case, but the journalist never got arrested.