Arrest of journalist for cyberstalking now unlawful – Falana

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Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has explained that it is no longer legal to arrest journalists or writers who post perceived offensive comments about individuals in the country.

Falana said the federal government has repealed Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act, 2015, which criminalised such posts.

Some journalists and bloggers have been forcefully arrested in recent times under the alleged offences of ‘cyberstalking’, ”insult’, ‘causing annoyance’, ‘sending offensive messages’, and ‘criminal intimidation’ ”insult’, ‘causing annoyance’, ‘sending offensive messages’, and ‘criminal intimidation’.

However, in a statement on Thursday, Falana said the ECOWAS Court of Justice had nullified the provisions of the section and directed the federal government to repeal them, which it has complied with.

He said the verdicts are contained in the cases of Laws and Rights Awareness Initiative (Suit No. ECW/CCJ/APP/53/18) and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), (Suit No ECW/CCJ/APP/09/19), “the Ecowas Court declared Section 24 of the Cybercrime Act 2015 illegal and directed the federal government to amend the section to make the law conform with the fundamental right of Nigerian citizens to freedom of expression guaranteed by Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 and article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.”

He said the section, which provided thus:
“(a) Any person who, knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that (a) is grossly offensive, pornographic or of an indecent, obscene, or menacing character or causes any such message or matter to be so sent; or

(b) He knows to be false for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent: commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000, 000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment” has now been amended.

He said in its place it provides, “’Any person who knowingly or intentionally sends a message or other matter by means of computer systems or network that –(a) Pornographic: or (b) He knows to be false, for the purpose of causing a breakdown of law and order, posting a threat to life or causing such a message to be sent commits an offence under this Act and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or to both such fine and imprisonment.’”

“From the foregoing, it is crystal clear that the police and other security agencies lack the power to arrest, detain and prosecute Nigerian citizens for the so- called offences of ‘cyberstalking’, ”insult’, ‘causing annoyance’, ‘sending offensive messages’, and ‘criminal intimidation’.

“Consequently, all pending cases filed on the basis of the repealed aspects of section 24 of the Cybercrime Act 2015 should be discontinued without any further delay,” Falana said.

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