Nigeria: Police Arrest Publisher of Online News Portal for Alleged Defamation

This statement was originally published on mfwa.org on January 14, 2014.

Nigerian police have arrested Desmond Utomwen, publisher of FreshNews, an online journal, following a defamation complaint by a custom official. The police also seized files and equipment from his office.

The MFWA’s correspondent in Nigeria reports that at 11.34 am on January 13, 2017, police officers led by Anthony Enobakhare and Abubakar Iweafeno, showed a warrant of arrest and proceeded to search the publisher’s office before arresting him.

The officers confiscated Utomwen’s laptop, mobile phone, file and other official documents before taking him away to the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, FCIID in Area 10, Garki, Abuja, for questioning.

Utomwen, who was denied access to his lawyer, was eventually released on bail later that day following the intervention of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Centre against Brutality and for the Safety of Journalists in Africa (CABSOJA).

The arrest followed a petition by the legal counsel to Umar Faruk, a senior officer of the Nigerian Customs Service who alleged that publisher had defamed him. The defamation case goes back to August 2016 when FreshNews contacted Faruk for his reaction to some information it had obtained about him which could ruin his reputation. Observing the ethics of journalism, FreshNEWS decided not to publish the story until it has received Faruk’s response.

Our correspondent says the operation was apparently aimed at destroying or seizing all documents related to the allegations about Faruk.

It is clearly unacceptable for a publisher to be arrested and for his media house to be ransacked simply for possessing and not necessarily publishing information about a public figure. The MFWA calls on the Nigerian police to ensure that all the equipment and documents seized from Utomwen are returned to him.