Arrest of CrossRiverWatch Reporter is an Affront on Freedom of Speech – Lawyers

In Breaking News, National News, Reports

by crossriverwatch admin

James Ibor, Calabar based legal practitioner
James Ibor, Calabar based legal practitioner

A cross section of lawyers in Calabar have expressed shock and displeasure at the arrest last night of a crossriverwatch freelance reporter, Mr. Emmanuel Unah by operatives from the Cross River State CID headquarters, Diamond Hill, Calabar over a story about the State Deputy Governor, Mr. Efiok Cobham.

Mr. Emmanuel Unah who is also the Calabar correspondent of Vanguard Newspaper was arrested by a team of detectives who stormed his residence in the dead of the night insisting that he must follow them to the police headquarters.

He has since been detained by the police for reason they are yet to reveal other insisting on knowing his relationship with crossriverwatch.

A team of detectives accompanied him to his residence this afternoon to search his residence in company of his wife. He was also forced to release his laptop for the police who searched his private documents and invaded his e-mail address looking for a link between Mr. Unah and crossriverwatch.

But lawyers who spoke to crossriverwatch expressed dismay over what they described as an affront on freedom of speech.

Barrister James Ibor, a legal practitioner in Calabar told crossriverwatch that “I’m still wondering why a reporter will be arrested and still being kept in detention for doing his work! I’ve read the story they are talking about over and over and I’ve not seen anything criminal in nature or likely to breach the peace of Cross River State.

“For doing nothing that is related to criminality, the police have invaded his privacy, searched his home, traumatized his children and wife, detained him since yesterday, invaded his private documents, searched his e-mail and they still have not found anything incriminating.

“We can then say that it is becoming strange and desperate too for public officials who sought public office willingly to now begin to think that their affairs will be private. The Deputy Governor and his wife’s affairs concern the public because the last time I checked, they are both public officials maintained with tax payers’ money.

“The only way to know about them is from the press like crossriverwatch has been telling us and I think crossriverwatch has served us well. If the Deputy Governor finds any of their publication libelous, he should proceed to court and stop harassing reporters for doing their job. That amounts to an affront not only on the media but also on freedom of speech.”

“If Emmanuel is not released by the end of today, the police would have kept him in detention more than necessary and we will proceed to court to ask the deputy governor and the police to answer some civil questions on why they had to infringe on his fundamental human rights!”

Barrister Utum Eteng, another Calabar based legal practitioner told said: “Let’s even assume that the publication was libelous, under which section of our criminal code was he arrested. It is a purely civil matter that would have warrant the person affected by that publication to go to court and seek redress and not to use your privileged position to intimidate the press for doing their work.

“People are sued when civil offences are committed not arrested. This is a clear attempt by the deputy governor to use the police to intimidate and cow the press. They should understand that those days are over. Freedom of the press is an intrinsic democratic prerequisite and no one should attempt to suffocate it no matter your position. The deputy governor and the police will have to be sued for this impunity.”

In his reaction, Barrister Obono Obla, called on the state government to immediately halt the return to the dark days when the state thrived on impunity and constant harassment of press men who diligently were doing their jobs.

“I think that government officials are just waking up to the reality of the freedom of information and the right of citizens to express themselves. Gone are those days when things happen in Cross River and go unreported. There is a robust system of information dissemination on ground now with the advent of social media and that imposes an additional responsibility on public officials to become more decent and cautious in their actions.

“In any case there is no section of the law that supports the order of the deputy governor and the action of the police. It is a mere attempt to intimidate freedom of speech and an unacceptable affront on the press. The government has over reacted by directing the Commissioner of Police to arrest Mr. Unah in the dead of the night by a contingent of Mobile Police Force.

“If Mr. Unah defamed the family of Mr. Cobham; the lawful thing to do is for the Government to file a complaint against him to the Nigeria Press Council.

“It is the Nigeria Press Council that is statutorily empowered to deal with complaints against journalists bordering on unprofessional conduct by them.

“The truth of the matter is that the arrest and subsequent detention of Mr. Unah amounts to a violation of his fundamental right to freedom of personal liberty as secured and guaranteed by Section 35 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, 2010.

“I call on the Government of Cross River State to immediately release Mr. Unah. Alternatively if the Government feels strongly that Mr. Unah has breached the law it should promptly arraign him before a Court of competent jurisdiction.
Bode Abraka, Coordinator of Social Action in Calabar also told crossriverwatch that “Cross River State government officials should come to terms with the fact that this is a new brand of journalism there are not used to. They are used to paying for and getting nice stories written about them so they can brandish them.

“Now there is a medium that sees through all these and is telling the people of the state the exact situation of things on the ground including calling our elected officials to order and the government is fighting back by using intimidation.

“No government has ever successfully fought the press. Such governments usually fall while the press houses re-emerge stronger so the Deputy Governor should read his history well. He is a lawyer and he does not need to be told that, if they is a publication you consider injurious to your person, you go to court and seek redress from the media organization and not sit around and use security operatives to intimidate reporters.

“He should see the way the governor comports himself. Several things have been written about this same crossriverwatch about the governor’s health and his wife having tape worm and no one was arrested. Why does the deputy governor see himself as a demi-god or does he think his boss is a fool?

“This is a democratic regime and a lawyer like the Deputy Governor should be the least to resort to self help in addressing matters of law. He should redress his steps by ensuring the release of the reporter and make peace with the press in his own interest and that of his political career.”

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