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Law That Jailed  Rhoda Jatau Targeted for Revision: Rights Group

Rhoda Jatau, Luka Binniyat, Future Critics of Abuja at Permanent Risk 

By Gabriel Idibia

[Kaduna] A human rights coalition has called on Nigeria’s Senate to take down the law that led to jailing of Rhoda Jatua two years ago. Ms. Jatau was released from confinement late on Dec. 8 and moved to an undisclosed safe house. She reportedly has relocated to Gombe State.

The African Working Group within the International Religious Freedom Federation (IRF) Roundtable Washington DC, Nigeria Centre, sent a letter to the Senate, strongly advocating the removal of Section 24 (1-2) of Nigeria’s Cybercrimes Act.

“The law has been misused,” according to Scott Morgan, a founder of the African Working Group, which has been working this issue for years. “The Act should not be used to curtail Nigerian citizens’ fundamental freedoms, nor hinder the independence of journalists and human rights defenders in documenting human rights violations as they play an important role in fighting impunity,” the letter stated.

Independent conflict reporter Luka Binniyat, who was prosecuted for cyberstalking a former Kaduna Security official and held for four months in Kaduna prison. The federal tribunal is still pursuing the case.  credit: Luka Binniyat
Independent conflict reporter Luka Binniyat, who was prosecuted for cyberstalking a former Kaduna Security official and held for four months in Kaduna prison. The federal tribunal is still pursuing the case.  credit: Luka Binniyat

The statement noted with dismay that the Cyber Crimes Act has been used discriminatorily and unlawfully by intolerant actors to target individuals they disagree with. It was signed by Emmanuel Ahim of Diaspora Alliance and Scott Morgan, Co-Chair African Working Group IRF Roundtable Washington, DC, Nigeria center.

It stated that “In light of the above, it is clear that the Cyber Crimes Act has been used discriminatorily and unlawfully by intolerant actors to target individuals they disagree with.”

The group also is asking the Senate to work towards providing an effective legal review through an ombudsman or similar actor, to monitor the legality of charges brought under the Cyber Crimes Act, and to ensure that it’s not used to gag  Nigerian journalists or to handcuff  human-rights defenders.

The letter addressed the Committee Chairman, Senate Committee on Internet Computer Technology and Cyber Security, the Hon. Shuaib Salisu, Dec. 8.

“We also ask that the Senate looking into providing effective legal review via an ombudsman, or similar actor, to monitor the legality of charges brought under the Cyber Crimes Act.

“As the Senate speaker has raised, the current Cyber Crime Act (2015) fails to fulfill its core purpose to address and stem the $500 million dollars Nigeria loses annually due to cybercrime including hacking, identity theft, cyber terrorism, harassment, and internet fraud.

“The Act instead has been implemented to silence and detain individuals for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief and freedom of opinion and expression”, it stated.

Earlier in the letter to the committee chairman, the group explained that “We, the undersigned, are a group of individuals and organizations that advocate for human rights and religious freedom around the world.

“We represent diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds but are united in our goal of promoting freedom of conscience, religion and belief for all. We are reaching out to you regarding the Cyber Crime Act (2015) Amendment Bill that was discussed in the Senate on November 22nd.

“We have concerns not only with the proposed amendments but specifically with Section 24 and 26 of the current Act and how it has been misused to formally detain individuals for exercising their freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief and freedom of expression.

“We concur with the assessment that was made by Jide Oyekunle the Chairman of the NUJ, FCT Correspondent Chapel and representatives of Avocats Sans

“We are especially concerned with how this section was used initially used to target Rhoda Jatau, a Christian healthcare worker from Bauchi State.

“Authorities imprisoned her and are charging her with blasphemy for sharing a video on WhatsApp criticizing the murder of Christian university student Deborah Emmanuel in May 2022.

“Another hearing was held on November 27th which refused to dismiss the blasphemy charges, and this case will move forward to trial. Section 26 was also used initially to formally detain Humanist Mubarak Bala.

“Journalists who document human rights violations are also targeted by the Cyber Crimes Act. Luka Binniyat, who reported on religious groups and religious freedom conditions was charged by authorities under Section 24 (b) of the Nigeria Cyber Crimes Act, before he was eventually released.

“The section criminalizes using computers or other devices to transmit information that the sender “knows to be false, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, ill- will or needless anxiety to another or causes such a message to be sent.”

“While authorities used the law to detain Luka Binniyat for four months, no individuals convicted for the murder of Deborah Emmanuel. It is also known that militant groups and others use social media to document their attacks and even recruit new fighters”, it stressed.

Gabriel Idibiya reports on crime, corruption and terrorism for TruthNigeria from Kaduna. 

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