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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

After almost four months in prison, Nigerian journalist is released on bail

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The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release on bail of Nigerian journalist Saint Mienpamo Onitsha on Thursday and calls on authorities to drop all charges against him and reform the country’s laws to ensure journalism is not criminalized.

“Saint Mienpamo Onitsha was detained for almost four months simply for doing his job, which should never be considered a crime,” said CPJ Africa Director Angela Quintal in New York. “While we welcome Onitsha’s release on Thursday, we repeat our call on the Nigerian authorities to quickly drop all charges against him and reform the country’s laws to ensure that journalists are no longer imprisoned for their reporting.”

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In October 2023, police arrested Ontisha, founder of private online broadcaster NAIJA Live TV, and charged him with cyber harassment under section 24 of the Nigerian Cyber ​​Crimes Act and defamation under the code. penal. The charge sheet cited a September report on tensions in the southern Niger Delta region.

On December 4, a court in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, heard Onitsha’s bail application and on January 25 the court granted him freedom on the condition that he provide two guarantees: people willing to take responsibility of any court decision made if Onitsha defaults on bail. obligations—on bail of 10 million naira ($8,372), according to copies of the court ruling, reviewed by CPJ, and Onitsha’s lawyer, Anande Terungwa, who spoke to CPJ by phone.

The court also ordered that the clerk of court verify the residence of the guarantors and that the guarantors must present documents proving that they own land in Abuja, as well as their recent passport photographs, according to those same sources.

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Onitsha’s next court appearance is March 19. If convicted, he faces a fine of 25 million naira (US$20,930) and/or up to 10 years in prison on cyberbullying charges, as well as a possible two-year prison sentence on defamation charges. and publication of defamatory matter under the Penal Code Act, according to Terungwa and a copy of the statement of objections reviewed by CPJ.

Terungwa told CPJ that the delay between Onitsha’s granting of bail on January 25 and his release on February 1 was due to a lengthy verification process between prosecutors’ officials and lawyers over the conditions of his release. Onitsha bail.

Onitsha appeared in CPJ’s 2023 prison census, which documented at least 67 imprisoned journalists across Africa as of December 1.

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