Nigerian authorities have been urged by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) to immediately and unconditionally release blogger Kemi Omololu-Olunloyo and newspaper publisher Samuel Welson detained for alleged defamation.In a statement on Saturday, the CPJ West Africa representative Peter Nkanga said defamation allegations should never be a criminal matter.
“We call on Nigerian authorities to release Kemi Omololu-Olunloyo and Samuel Welson without condition or charge, and to cease prosecuting journalists on charges of defamation or publishing false news” he said.
The two have been held in a maximum security prison for more than a week as they await trial on charges of defamation and publishing false news.
Police on March 13 arrested Omololu-Olunloyo, who runs the blog HNN Africa, at her house in the southwestern city of Ibadan, for publishing on Instagram a letter purportedly from a churchgoer accusing a woman of using juju to convince a pastor and other men to sleep with her and to give her gifts.
The post has since been removed from Instagram, but a legal document CPJ has reviewed indicates 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.
Police on March 15 arrested Welson, the publisher of the Port Harcourt tabloid newspaper Rivers Today, after the newspaper republished the letter, according to Phoebe Fawehinmi, who is representing both journalists.
The legal document lists the date Rivers Today published the document as “on or about” February 20.
On March 15, police drove Omololu-Olunloyo more than 600 kilometers (373 miles) across the country, from Ibadan to Port Harcourt, where a court ordered her and Welson jailed in a maximum security prison, pending trial on charges of criminal defamation and false news.
A bail hearing on Friday was postponed until March 30.