Nigerian authorities should immediately release blogger Kemi Omololu-Olunloyo in accordance with two court orders granting her bail and prosecutors should drop all criminal charges against her, the CPJ said in a statement.
“Omololu-Olunloyo, who runs the blog HNN Africa, has been jailed for 69 days pending trial despite two court orders for her release on bail.”
Police first arrested Omololu-Olunloyo on March 13 from her house in the southwestern city of Ibadan after she published on Instagram a letter purportedly from a churchgoer accusing a woman of using witchcraft to convince a pastor to sleep with her and give her gifts, according to media reports and her lawyers.
A magistrate’s court in Port Harcourt arraigned her and Samuel Welson – publisher of the Port Harcourt tabloid newspaper Rivers Today which had republished the letter “on or about” February 20 – on charges of criminal libel and publishing false news, according to media reports and the legal document, the CPJ said.
The magistrate’s court on March 30 ordered both released on bail, Welson and Phoebe Fawehinmi, a lawyer who is representing both journalists, told the CPJ. While Welson was released, police the same day re-arrested the blogger and brought her before the Federal High Court which arraigned her under Nigeria’s Cybercrime Act, which criminalises any message sent using computer systems that the sender knows to be false.
After several adjournments, the federal court on April 11 ordered her released on bail but more than a month later the deputy chief registrar at the court had yet to forward her paperwork to the judge for signature despite her having met the conditions for bail, Eugene Meabe and Fatai Lawal, two other lawyers representing Omololu-Olunloyo, told the CPJ.
“Defamation should never be a criminal matter in the first place, but keeping Kemi Omololu-Olunloyo in prison for 69 days and counting, despite two court orders for her release on bail is a clear perversion of justice,” CPJ West Africa representative Peter Nkanga said. “Judicial authorities should cease dragging their feet and should release the blogger immediately.”
Omololu-Olunloyo’s original post had been removed from Instagram, but a legal document the CPJ had reviewed indicated it was published first “on or about” February 17. When she published the letter Omololu-Olunloyo wrote that neither the pastor nor the woman had responded to her request for comment.
Shortly before 2.30pm [Nigerian time] on Friday afternoon, Rivers State attorney general and commissioner for justice Emmanuel Aguma declined to comment on Omololu-Olunloyo’s case, saying he had finished work for the day. “I have closed for the day and I don’t know you, so I will not talk to you,” Aguma said.Omololu-Olunloyo was scheduled to appear in the Federal High Court again on May 23, her lawyers told the CPJ. Omololu-Olunloyo and Welson were scheduled to appear together in the magistrate’s court on June 14, the lawyers said.