The Committee to Protect Journalists has lamented the continued incarceration of Saint Mienpamo Onitsha, publisher of NAIJA Live TV, by the Nigerian government since October 2023.

Onitsha was arrested on October 10, 2023, and charged with cybercrime and defamation concerning a report that he wrote alleging that there was tension in the Niger Delta after a man had been killed by security guards outside government offices in the capital, Abuja.

The Annual Prison Census report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) revealed that China, Russia, Israel, Belarus, Myanmar and Vietnam emerged as the world’s worst jailers of journalists.

According to the report, 320 journalists were imprisoned in connection with their work on December 1, 2023, and China in 2023 imprisoned 44 journalists while Myanmar jailed 43 journalists, Belarus jailed 28, Russia jailed 22 journalists, Vietnam jailed 19 journalists while Israel jailed 17 journalists as of December 1, 2023.

Eritrea, with 16 journalists in jail, is the world’s seventh-worst jailer of journalists and the worst on the African continent.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the number of journalists jailed on December 1 rose to 47 from 31 in 2022 and 30 in 2021, with Ethiopia (8) and Cameroon (6) ranking as the second- and third-worst in the region.


The data also reflects media crackdowns in Senegal, Zambia, Angola, and Madagascar. Senegal, which has five journalists jailed, has only appeared on the census twice previously (2008 and 2022) with one jailed journalist in each of those years.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Angola, Burundi, and Nigeria, which jailed Onitsha, all had one journalist listed in 2023. Madagascar, appearing for the first time on the census, also held one journalist.

Onitsha is the founder and publisher of the online broadcaster NAIJA Live TV, which was launched in Nigeria’s southern Bayelsa State in 2016 and covers political and economic issues, according to Onitsha and CPJ’s review.

On October 10, police officers arrested him at the home of his friend Charles Kuboro James in Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State, Onitsha’s lawyer Anande Terungwa and James told CPJ.

James told CPJ that the officers arrived at his house and forced him at gunpoint to phone and summon Onitsha. The officers then forced both men into police vehicles at gunpoint and began driving towards the police station, he said.

James said the officers accused him of involvement in a criminal conspiracy with Onitsha and dropped him on the roadside midway to the station.

Lawyer Terungwa said the officers held Onitsha overnight at the Criminal Investigation Department office in Yenagoa and then flew him to the capital, Abuja, where he was detained in the police headquarters.

On October 17, police charged Onitsha with cyberstalking under the Cybercrimes Act—for which the penalty is a N25 million fine and/or up to 10 years in jail—as well as defamation and the publication of defamatory matter under the Criminal Code Act—for which the maximum penalty is two years in jail, according to Terungwa and a copy of the charge sheet reviewed by CPJ.

The charge sheet cited a September 8 NAIJA Live TV report alleging that there was tension in the southern Niger Delta because a man had been killed in Abuja by security guards outside the offices of the Presidential Amnesty Program (PAP), which was set up in 2009 to end a militant insurgency in the oil-rich region.

It said the man, Pere Ebidouwei, had gone to Abuja to submit his documents to the PAP after the government delisted some amnesty program beneficiaries, who receive a monthly stipend in exchange for laying down their arms.

Later that day, Onitsha shared a link to the article on Facebook, as well as a video showing someone pouring water over a man lying on a street, whom Onitsha identified as Ebidouwei. He also posted a letter, dated September 8, which appeared to be from solicitors working for the PAP, who said Onitsha’s article was defamatory and demanded that NAIJA Live TV publish a disclaimer and apology or face court action.

On September 9, Onitsha published another article, in which he quoted a PAP statement saying that they “decided to discipline” Ebidouwei for trying to force his way into their offices and that when he “pretended to have passed out,” they arranged for him to go to hospital where he was confirmed to be OK.

Terungwa told CPJ that a court was due to rule on January 25 on an application for Onitsha to be freed on bail.

In 2020, Nigerian authorities also charged Onitsha with cybercrimes for his reporting on COVID-19. Onitsha said the case was later withdrawn at the request of the complainant.

Nigerian police spokesperson Olumuyiwa Adejobi told CPJ on October 23, that the officers were carrying out their duties by implementing the law and were not to blame for the charges.

Adejobi said he would investigate Onitsha and James’ allegations that the officers aimed their guns at them but he did not respond to CPJ’s subsequent calls and text messages.

CPJ’s calls and text messages to the PAP did not receive any response. The phone number on the letter that Onitsha posted on Facebook which appeared to be written by solicitors working for PAP did not connect.

The Federal High Court in Abuja, on Thursday, November 2, 2023, ordered that Onitsha should be remanded in Kuje Correctional Centre following his arraignment on alleged cyberbullying.

In December 2023, the court adjourned till January 25, 2024, the suit instituted by the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun on behalf of the PAP Coordinator, Maj. Gen. Barry Ndiomu (Retd) against Onitsha.

CPJ has repeatedly documented the use of Nigeria’s Cybercrimes Act to prosecute journalists for their work.

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