THE CENTRE for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) has urged the federal government and Bauchi State Government to direct the immediate and unconditional release of Mrs Rhoda Jatau from detention.
The call was made by the Executive Director of CITAD, Engr. Y.Z. Ya’u, in Bauchi on Friday at a press conference on the digital rights implications of her continued detention by the Bauchi State Government over her social media post.
Engr Ya’u stated that Mrs Jatau was arrested by security operatives in her house in Katanga Warji, Bauchi State, for sharing a WhatsApp message to her friends condemning the killing of a student in Sokoto for alleged blasphemy.
“You may all recall that on May 20, 2022, Mrs Jatau was picked up at her residence by the NPF on the allegations of alleged incitement and inciting public disturbance. The police action was based on their perception of what her message could do,” Ya’u said.
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He added that “this action has directly infringed on her rights to freedom of expression and speech as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. Her post, while perhaps strong in its language, did not incite violence or hatred… [I]t was simply an expression of her opinion, a right guaranteed to her by our Constitution. It is an outright abuse of her digital right to freedom of expression online.
“However, immediately after sharing the post, she was arrested and taken into custody. Her bail was consistently denied, and she has been held behind bars ever since. This is not just an injustice to Rhoda; it is an attack on the digital rights of every citizen in this country,” Ya’u stressed.
He added: “Denying someone bail based on a social media post sets a dangerous precedent for our collective freedom and democracy. It sends a bad signal that the government can silence any dissenting voice if they deem it contrary to their own opinion.”
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He said if this “if this trend continues, it will make people afraid to speak their minds, express themselves, and associate online for fear of being attacked, arrested, or molested by the Nigerian government or its agencies, as in the case of Rhoda’s and many others.”
To reinforce its stance, CITAD declared that “it is crucial to remember that Sections 38 and 39 of the 1999 Federal Republic of Nigeria Constitution guarantee freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and expression.
“Additionally, the Government of Nigeria is a signatory to various international human rights law instruments and treaties, including the African Charter and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which all hold the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Nigeria.”
CITAD reiterated that the arrest and continued detention of Rhoda “are violations of her digital rights, and we cannot stand and do nothing while injustice is meted out to one of us.
“As an organisation working on the protection of human and digital rights of Nigerians, we strongly condemn the unnecessary adjournments and postponements of Mrs Jatau’s case hearing, which has been delayed five times since March 2023,” it stated, adding that: “We further denounce the rejection of her application for a “no-case submission” by her lawyers despite having no criminal history.
“Keeping her in addition to commending extrajudicial murder is asking to detain all the people condemning the atrocious matter.”
CITAD therefore demanded that Rhoda be immediately released, while all charges preferred against her be drooped, as it called for respect for the fundamental right of every citizen to express themselves freely and openly in the digital space.
“Furthermore, we call upon the federal government to immediately intervene and ensure the release of Mrs. Jatau without further delay, and the Bauchi State Government to order the Attorney General in the state to facilitate the release of Mrs Jatau unconditionally.
“The Nigeria Police Force should desist from arresting citizens for exercising their constitutional rights online. We call on the media organisations nationwide to amplify the voices of Mrs Jatau and others who face similar injustices at the hands of the Nigeria Police Force and other agencies,” CITAD said, and called on human rights organisations, civil society organisations, and lawyers to unite in assisting victims of digital rights abuses and safeguarding the digital rights of Nigerians.
It also called on the National Assembly to speed up the passage of the digital rights and freedom bill, which CITAD believes will address the injustices perpetrated against citizens under the guise of national security.