Press freedom: Arrested, handcuffed and persecuted, African journalists are under threat - The Africa Report
Press freedom: Arrested, handcuffed and persecuted, African journalists are under threat - The Africa Report

Journalists across Africa are targeted, says Angela Quintal, the head of Africa programme at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ),

adding that ‘as old and new laws are used to criminalise journalism, reporters face physical attacks from security forces with impunity, and
authorities routinely seek to censor voices deemed undesirable.’

As the World Press Freedom Day is marked across the globe, The Africa Report features three persecuted African journalists as they narrate their ordeals.

Segun Olatunji – Nigeria
Segun Olatunji – Nigeria

The editor of privately-owned online First News, Olatunji says he was abducted from his
Lagos residence on 15 March by around 20 heavily armed military men who stormed his
house at 6pm. He had just finished watching the popular local TV programme,
Journalists Hangout with his seven-year-old son.

The military men had earlier arrested his wife along with their 16-month-old baby, as
well as another woman and her two young children at his wife’s nearby shop. The armed
men confiscated cellphones, bundled the women and children into a van and forced her
to lead them to their home.


READ MORE:BREAKING: Military Bows To Pressure, Releases Arrested First News Editor

“On their arrival in my house, the armed men burst into our living room and their leader
immediately confiscated my two phones and shouted, “We’re from the military. We’re
here to arrest you!” Olatunji tells The Africa Report.

“When I asked him to identify himself and produce a warrant for my arrest, he said they
had orders to affect my arrest and they had no time to waste,” he adds.

Segun Olatunji (supplied)
Olatunji was in his boxer shorts and when he requested that he be allowed to wear a shirt
and trousers, the men escorted him into his bedroom. As they took him away, his wife
and kids cried out. None of the armed men told Olatunji why he was being arrested.
Handcuffed and blindfolded

“ At first, I had thought they were taking me to the Directorate of Military Intelligence
(DMI) in Apapa, Lagos, a military detention facility notorious for the violation of human
rights and killing of innocent citizens in the days of military rule in Nigeria,” Olatunji

“When the convoy got to the Sam Ethan Base of the Nigerian Air-Force in Ikeja, they
entered the facility and drove straight to the front of the office of the National Air
Defence Corps beside the base hangar, where I was handcuffed and held in the van for
more three hours with some of the armed men taking turns to watch over me.”

That was when Olatunji realised that he was about to be flown to Abuja.

READ MORE:Journalism Under Digital Sieg; IPC Reiterates Urgency of Stakeholders Collaboration to Safeguard Press Freedom

“By then, the day had got dark and shortly afterwards, a light military aircraft landed and
one of the armed men suddenly removed my eyeglasses and pulled a blindfold over my
face. They dragged me into the military aircraft, which then took off.

Olatunji was handcuffed and blindfolded inside the aircraft and throughout the hour
fight to Abuja.

“When we got to their office or barracks – I guess at around midnight or so – a Colonel
Lawal handed me over to an officer on duty, who stripped me of my trousers and put
cuffs on my legs too. The officer then dragged me into a dark, underground building,
where I was thrown into a dark cell with the hand and leg cuffs still not loosened. My cell
was locked up with big padlocks,” Olatunji says.

His ordeal and incommunicado detention continued for three days before he was finally
interrogated about a story published by First News linking President Bola Tinubu’s Chief
of Staff Femi Gbajabiamila to a $30bn property scandal.

Olatunji was released after 14 ‘harrowing’ days in detention. He’s still haunted by the
memories of his jail cell.

Macmillan Mhone – Malawi
Macmillan Mhone – Malawi

Mhone, a journalist with Nation Publications Limited, was arrested on 8 April in the
Malawian capital, Blantyre, after he was invited for questioning by the police cybercrime unit.

He was arrested in connection to two articles published in August 2023 by the privately
owned Malawi24 news site which alleged police involvement in corruption with a local
businessman according to those same sources. Mhone worked with Malawi24 until 27
March 2024.

“I spent the night at Blantyre Police station and the next morning I briefly met my lawyer
before being taken by two police officers to Malawi Police Headquarters in Lilongwe
which is more than 300km away,” Mhone tells The Africa Report.

He was charged with the publication of false news likely to cause fear or alarm, cyber
spamming and extortion, before being released on bail.

Long road to court
The case is expected to come before a court in Lilongwe, which means Mhone will have
to travel from Lilongwe whenever he’s asked to appear in court.

There’s also the huge financial strain the case is putting on Malawi24 which pays his
legal fees. There has been no comment from President Lazarus Chakwera.

But worse than all that is Mhone’s lack of safety.

“I don’t feel safe,” he says. “I feel that stories concerning corruption can lead to me
getting arrested again because anyone involved in corruption would claim that a story
about them is fake and likely to cause fear or alarm.”

Saint Mienpamo Onitsha, CEO of privately own online newspaper, NAIJA LIVE TV – Nigeria
Saint Mienpamo Onitsha, CEO of privately own online newspaper, NAIJA LIVE TV – Nigeria

On 10 October 2023, Saint Mienpamo Onitsha, founder of the privately-owned online
broadcaster NAIJA Live TV, was billed to cover the 10th anniversary of the first civil
governor of Bayelsa State in southern Nigeria which coincided with an election

Mienpamo received a call from his friend who asked him to meet him in his house nearby,
saying it was urgent. Onitsha was held at gunpoint by police officers as he arrived at the
house in the southern city of Yenagoa.

READ MORE: Allege Cyberstalking: Court grant Bayelsa News Blogger, Saint Mienpamo bail

“The officers who ambushed me forced my two phones out of my hand and asked me to
give them my passwords, which I refused,” Onitsha says. “The officers then forced me
and my friend into a vehicle at gunpoint and began driving towards the local police

They dropped his friend on the roadside midway to the local police station after verbally accusing him of involvement in a criminal conspiracy. Onitsha was held overnight at the Criminal Investigation Department office in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, and then flown to Abuja on the commercial Air Peace airline. He was interrogated for two days.

Passwords obtained under duress

“During the interrogation by the police, my phones’ passwords were illegally obtained
from me under duress. In the presence of my lawyer, my phones were later plugged into a
customised computer at the police station and all my files were illegally downloaded into
their system,” Onitsha tells The Africa Report.

On 17 October, a week after his arrest, the police charged him with cyberstalking under
the Cybercrimes Act – for which the penalty is a N25m ($32,694) 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 he faces two years in jail.

READ MORE: Court Orders Police To Release Personal Belongings Of Saint Mienpamo

On 4 December 2023, a court in Abuja heard Onitsha’s bail application and on 25 January
the court granted him bail with a condition that he provide two sureties – persons willing
to take responsibility for any court decisions made if Onitsha fails to meet bail
obligations – with a bond of N10m ($8,372), according to the court ruling cited by CPJ.

“During my 23 days of detention at the police headquarters, I was not allowed access to
visitors. They also turned down my several pleas to speak on the phone to my pregnant
wife and to hear from my children,” Onitsha recalls.

“I was technically barred from communicating with my family when they knew fully
well that I lost my beloved mother barely two weeks before my illegal abduction by the

SOURCE: The Africa Reports

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