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Two journalists convicted in kwara

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the conviction of two Kwara journalists, Gidado Yushau and Alfred Olufemi, on charges of criminal conspiracy and defamation. The journalists, who worked for News Digest, an online publication, were found guilty by a Magistrate Court in Kwara State on February 7, 2023. The charges were brought against them over a false publication about an Agro-allied company based in the state, titled “Inside a Kwara factory where Indian Hemp is legalized,” which was published in the 2018 edition of the publication. CPJ, an independent, non-profit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, described the conviction as “a chilling message to the Nigerian press.”

CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Angela Quintal, has stated that the duo should have never been charged, let alone convicted, for publishing an investigative report about a factory. She also pointed out that the telecom surveillance used to bring the journalists into custody followed by a more than three-year-long trial demonstrates the lengths Nigerian authorities will go to arrest and prosecute the press. Before charges were filed, police leveraged Yushau and Alfred’s access to call data and briefly detained a News Digest web developer and at least two other journalists in their efforts to locate the two journalists.

The CPJ also highlighted the urgent need for authorities to reform the country’s laws and ensure that journalism is not criminalized. The telecom surveillance, along with two similar cases in 2017 and 2018, prompted an ongoing lawsuit against the Nigerian Communications Commission over regulations granting warrantless access to telecom subscribers’ information.

The magistrate, Mr A.S Muhammad, delivered the judgment after about five years of legal battle. He sentenced the convicted journalists to a fine of N40,000 only each or two months imprisonment in default of payment for the offence of conspiracy and N60,000 only each or three months imprisonment in default of payment for defamation. The counsel to the journalists, A.S Ibraheem Gambari Esq, insisted that journalists have the right of appeal and that efforts are on top gear towards exercising that constitutional right. They noted that if not for some administrative delays in obtaining the Certified True Copy of the judgment from the court’s registry, “the notice of appeal would have been filed by now.”

Gambari revealed that “there was evidence before the trial court that the police report which purportedly indicted our clients came into existence even before they were invited by the police. In other words, the police had already found them culpable long before they were invited to state their own side of the story.” He added that they believe that “justice will be achieved at appeal so that patriotic youthful elements in the society like our clients will not be discouraged from embarking on their respective altruistic endeavors.”

The authorities should reform the country’s laws to ensure that journalism is not criminalized, and the rights of journalists are protected. The right of appeal is a constitutional right, and it is essential that the appeal process is expedited so that justice can be served.

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