Journalist Agba Jalingo Remanded in Prison Custody Over Alleged False Publication

Journalist Agba Jalingo Remanded in Prison Custody Over Alleged False Publication

The arrest and remand of a journalist and publisher of an online news outlet, CrossRiverWatch, Mr Agba Jalingo, by the Nigerian Police Force has sparked outrage among civil society organizations. On Monday, Jalingo was arraigned before the Federal High Court in Abuja on a two-count charge that borders on alleged cybercrime. He was accused of publishing an article that disparaged Mrs Elizabeth Ayade, the wife of the younger brother of Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State.

Jalingo, who is a frontline critic of Governor Ayade’s administration, was accused of engaging in a false publication that was intended to cause annoyance, ill will, and insult to Mrs Ayade. However, upon his arraignment, he pleaded not guilty to the charge against him, which is punishable under Section 24 (1) (b) of the Cybercrimes (Prohibition, Prevention, Etc) Act 2015.

The prosecution counsel, Mr Fidelis Ogbobe, applied for a trial date, but the lawyer that announced the appearance of the defendant, Baba Isa, prayed the court for a short stand-down to enable the lead defence counsel in the matter, Marshal Abubakar, to arrive. The application for a stand-down was opposed by the prosecution, who alleged a plot to deliberately delay the case. The trial judge upheld the position of the prosecution and refused the request.

The court held that the defendant should remain in prison custody, pending the determination of his application for bail. Among those that were present in court in solidarity with the defendant, included social rights activist and candidate of the African Action Congress, AAC, in the recently held presidential election, Mr Omoyele Sowore, and other members of the Nigerian Civil Society Organizations.

It will be recalled that the nominal complainant, Mrs Ayade, had in 2022, asked Mr Jalingo to retract an article which she considered offensive. Jalingo had in the said article, queried why a suspended staff of the University of Calabar, Paschal Aboh, was facing trial for allegedly impersonating a student of the Nigerian Law School, Abuja campus identified as Mrs Ayade, while the person (Mrs Ayade) that allegedly contracted him, remained free.

The arrest and remand of Mr Jalingo has elicited condemnation from human rights groups, who argue that the Nigerian government is increasingly using the Cybercrimes Act to stifle press freedom and silence dissent. The case has also raised concerns about the safety of journalist in Nigeria and the need to protect them from harassment, intimidation, and arbitrary arrest.

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