Lagos, Nigeria, January 19, 2017--Nigerian authorities should drop all charges against Dapo Olorunyomi, publisher of the news website Premium Times, and Evelyn Okakwu, who covers the judiciary for the website, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Plainclothes police officers raided the website's office in the capital Abuja and arrested the two today, holding them for hours before releasing them on condition they answer defamation charges in court tomorrow morning, the website reported.
Police spokesman Don Awunah told Premium Times that the officers were acting on a criminal complaint filed by Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, Nigeria's chief of army staff, alleging the website had defamed him. Buratai had previously threatened legal action against the paper for its coverage of military operations targeting the militant group Boko Haram.
"Arresting and charging publisher Dapo Olorunyomi and reporter Evelyn Okakwu is a transparent ploy to intimidate and silence Premium Times' staff for their critical reporting," CPJ West Africa Representative Peter Nkanga said. "We call on Nigerian authorities to drop all charges against the journalists and to desist from further attempts to intimidate the media."
The Nigerian army on December 22, 2016, wrote to Premium Times accusing the website of a series of "libellous and defamatory publications" regarding Buratai and the military's campaign against Boko Haram, according to the letter, which CPJ has reviewed. The army threatened legal action if Premium Times failed to apologize and retract the offending articles, which included a December 12, 2016, report written by Okakwu that said Buratai would be investigated on suspicion of falsely reporting assets.
The Premium Times reported today that its lawyers had "days ago" responded to the army, saying it stood by its reporting. "By your letter you have threatened the lives of our clients...Should any harm come to them, you, the chief of army staff and the Nigerian army should be held accountable," the lawyers wrote.
Nigerian authorities have harassed Premium Times for its reporting on corruption and human rights abuses, according to CPJ research. The Nigerian government in 2013 accused the website of inciting mutiny within the military and undermining military operations against terrorist activities in northern Nigeria, according to media reports.
Nigerian Army spokesperson Brig. Gen. Sani Usman and police spokesman Assistant Superintendent of Police Anjuguri Manzah did not answer phone calls from CPJ.