A civil society organisation, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), has condemned the conviction of two Nigerian journalists, Gidado Yushau and Alfred Olufemi, describing it as a political attempt to muzzle the press.
The journalists were in 2019 arrested and arraigned over a publication, “Inside a Kwara factory where Indian Hemp is legalised” critical of activities at Hillcrest Agro-Allied company, which is linked to President Muhammadu Buhari’s Economic Adviser, Sarah Alade.
The said article was published in the News Digest publication in the 2018 edition.
However, after about five years of legal battle, the magistrate, A.S Muhammad, sentenced the journalists to five months in prison with an option of fine.
Reacting to the conviction, the Executive Director of CISLAC, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said it is saddening that despite the testimony of an ex-employee indicting the company and a lot of infractions by the police, the Magistrate Court still convicted the duo of criminal conspiracy and defamation by the court on February 7, 2023
“CISLAC, an independent, non-profit organisation, describes this as an inglorious attempt to muzzle the press and investigative journalism in Nigeria, which is unacceptable.”
“We also demand that an urgent step be taken to reform the country’s laws and ensure journalism is not criminalised like it. International human rights courts and UN bodies have repeatedly ruled against criminal sanctions for defamation.”
“The country has a robust judicial system for determining civil suits and whoever is aggrieved by what others have written about them is always welcomed to sue them for damages in a civil court.”
“It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money when public funds are used in prosecuting cases of personal interests such as this. It is no coincidence that press freedom has continually waned under President Muhammadu Buhari. Nigeria dropped to 129 from 120 in the 2022 ranking of press freedom across 180 countries.”
The organisation implored the President to champion the necessary judicial reforms before leaving office in May.