A human rights organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project and the Nigerian Union of Journalists have jointly described the recent arrest of the publisher of an online newspaper, Premium Times, Dapo Olorunyomi, as an intensification of the government’s ongoing clampdown on media freedom in the country.
The organisations sent a joint letter to the United Nations, in which they accused the Federal Government of intimidating journalists.
This was just as another rights advocacy group, Access to Justice, described the development as a “throwback to the dark days of military autocracy.”
The Country Director, ActionAid, Ojobo Ode Atuluku, also described the arrest of the publisher by the police as “an unwelcome development,” adding that such acts undermine press freedom and Nigeria’s hard-earned democracy.
Similarly, Lagos-based activist lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said the arrest of Olorunyomi, alongside a judicial correspondent of the online newspaper, Evelyn Okakwu, by the police on Thursday suggested “a total breakdown of democratic tolerance,” under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
Olorunyomi and Okakwu were reportedly arrested by the police on the strength of the complaint by the Nigerian Army that Premium Times maligned the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, in a recent publication.
According to the NUJ and SERAP, the duo were released on bail on Thursday and instructed to report back at the police station in Abuja on Friday.
They were likely to be taken before a Magistrate’s Court for arraignment.
However, the Executive Director of SERAP, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, and the NUJ President, Abdulwaheed Odusile, in a joint petition they sent to the UN on Friday accused the Federal Government of stifling press freedom in the country.
They called on the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Mr. David Kaye, to urgently prevail on the Federal Government and its agents “to end growing clampdown, intimidation and harassment of journalists, online newspapers, and bloggers.”
SERAP and NUJ said, “The arbitrary arrest of Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of online newspaper, Premium Times, and the judiciary correspondent of the online newspaper, Evelyn Okakwu, would seem to mark an intensification of a crackdown on media freedom that has been going on for some time now.
“We argue that while public officials are entitled to protection of their reputation, including protection against defamation, as individuals who have sought to play a role in public affairs they should tolerate a greater degree of scrutiny and criticism than ordinary citizens.”