Nigerian Government Officials Abusing Cybercrime Law To Silence Critical Journalists
from the won't-someone-think-of-the-lawmaking-children?! dept
There’s just something about adding the word “cyber” to “crime” that brings out the worst in legislators. A host a badly-written laws have been crafted to address everything from cyberbullying to hacking. These tend to be abused first by those in positions of power.
Nigeria’s government recently enacted a cybercrime law which is, of course, being wielded by thin-skinned government officials to silence critics. The cyberstalking provision is the preferred attack vector, placing those targeted by unhappy government leaders at risk of being hit with a $22,000 fine and three years in prison.
Last month, the law was cited in the August 20 arrest of Musa Babale Azare who was detained in the capital, Abuja, by police from Bauchi state. He was accused of allegedly criticising the state governor, Muhammad Abdullah Abubakar, on social media, according to news reports. Azare, who uses Facebook and Twitter as platforms to criticize the actions and policies of Abubakar and his administration, said he was denied access to his lawyer, and that police did not have authority to arrest him outside Bauchi state jurisdiction.
Azare wasn’t the only one hauled away by police for daring to publicly criticize officials — although his trip (280 miles) was arguably the longest. (Azare was taken from Abuja back to Bauchi to be questioned.) Politicians could barely wait for the ink on the signatures to dry before deploying it against citizens who had raised their ire.
CPJ found that at least three other bloggers were prosecuted under the cybercrime act in the space of four months last year after they reported or commented on critical reports.
One “suspect” was refused release until he could come up with a 3 million naira ($9500) bail. Another writer — a member of a national blogger’s guild — was denied bail three times and held for two weeks before charges were dropped. The third was denied bail and jailed for six months, with four of those spent in maximum security. All three of the cases CJP uncovered occurred within five months of the cybercrime law’s passage, which seems to suggest it was crafted with the intent of curbing critical speech, rather than criminal activity.
The irony of this is that the freedom of expression and freedom of the press are both enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. Laws can’t be made that directly abridge those freedoms, but government officials seem to have crafted themselves a handy loophole that handily allows them to bypass citizens’ constitutional protections.