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Fight Cybercrime Act, it is another Gag Law, CPJ alerts online publishers

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The Cybercrime Act, otherwise called Gag Law) has again been brought to the fore by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), calling online publishers in Nigeria to rise against the obnoxious law.

CPJ said journalists publishing online were vulnerable under the Cybercrime Act, adding that the law had compounded the challenges facing the entire Nigerian media community.

The Senior Researcher, Africa Programme at the CPJ, Mr Jonathan Rozen, who made the call on Thursday at the virtual Annual General Meeting of Nigeria Guild of Corporate Online Publishers.

According to him, Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act is frequently being used to gag the Nigerian press, recalling how journalists like Agba Jalingo, Jones Abiri, Ime Sunday Silas and Sikiru Obarayese were detained for up to two years by security agents without allowing them access to their lawyers and families.

He recalled that the Nigerian media and the Civil Society Organizations had over the years raised concerns about the Cybercrime Act and called for its reform as it violates Nigerians right of freedom of expression.

“As you may have noticed, the Cybercrime Act, Section 24 is frequently used against the Press. Referred to as cyber stalking, this section criminalizes the sending of a message that may cause broad implications, such as annoyance or needless anxiety.

“This wording is so big that it has the ability to criminalize wide laws on online activities, including publishing and distribution of journalism. Of course, Cybercrime is a real problem in need of a government response but this law is clearly being used to target and prosecute the Press.

“Journalists publishing online are also vulnerable to the various other challenges faced by the entire Nigerian Media community. Our Reporter reveals constant harassment, attacks and intimidation against journalists in Nigeria and their willingness to use digital forensics technology design to break into phones and computers in efforts to reveal sources,” Rozen said.

He noted that the Nigerian government had not taken any step to repeal or amend the Act, but has come out with a number of laws that have further put the lives of online journalists at risk.

Rozen said: “One of these is the proposed Social Media Bill against which the Nigerian Press and Civil Societies came up powerfully. Like the Cybercrime Act, it demands pressing time for vaguely worded crimes associated with distribution of information.

“When analyzing the Nigerian Social Media Bill, we find strikingly similar language to a law in Singapore about which CPJ also raised concerns.”

Earlier in his address of welcome, the GOCOP President, Dotun Oladipo, who is the Publisher of the Eagle Online, said the year 2020 is an unusual year for businesses generally because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oladipo, however, said in spite of the challenges occasioned by coronavirus, GOCOP members have remained in business.

Benaoyagha Okoyen, Consul General at the Nigerian Mission in New York, and Mr. Ramon Nasir, Head of Communications at the United Bank for Africa Plc, joined the opening session and delivered goodwill messages.

Also present at the pre-AGM formalities were the Head of the Corporate Communications Department of Zenith Bank Plc, Sunday Enebeli-Uzor and a representative of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Ltd.

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