REPORT: Journalists Accused Of Cybercrime — Daniel & Tim Elombah, By Amnesty Int’l
See below the full report published by Amnesty International titled “Endangered voices: attack on freedom of expression in Nigeria” narrating how security operatives of the Federal Government of Nigeria numbering about 15 invaded the country home of the Elombah brothers — Daniel and Timothy — on January 1, 2018, by 5a.m. and whisked them away just because they are journalists.
According to the report, six people were arrested and three of the brothers — Daniel, Timothy and Izuchukwu — were eventually taken to Abuja following which the editor of ElombahNews — Timothy — was detained for 25 days while others were granted bail same day.
“Daniel Elombah has received multiple threats over his publications on his website elombah.com, since its establishment in 2009. The online medium offers critical analyses and opinion pieces on the political climate in Nigeria. On 1 January 2018, officials of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad Unit of the Nigeria Police (SARS) arrested and detained Daniel alongside two of his brothers, Timothy and Theo Elombah, at Awka, Anambra State.
“Recounting the details of their arrest, Daniel told Amnesty International: “It was in the
morning. We were still asleep at about 5am, January 1 – New Year’s Day – when I heard loud banging on the door. There was a celebration we’d had the day before, with the family and the in-laws, so we had gone to bed late, so at 5am there was a loud banging and I was the first person to get up. I came to the door and said, ‘Who is that?’ I heard the voice of my elder brother reply, ‘It’s me.’ So, I opened the door.
“I saw a number of men all dressed in black and carrying guns. I was taken aback. They said, ‘Are you Tim Elombah?’ I said, ‘No.’ They asked where Tim Elombah was and I didn’t answer at first. By the way, Tim Elombah is my editor-in-chief and happens to also be my brother. He is the editor of the news medium. We were all made to sit on the ground of the family compound, on the bare floor. They didn’t introduce themselves.
“When about six of my brothers had been rounded up they said, ‘Let’s go.’ I said, ‘Let’s go where? Where are you taking us?’ They now said that they were men of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. I said, ‘Well, you didn’t introduce yourselves when you were arresting us. So, you are the police?’ They said yes. I said, ‘Okay, I thought you were kidnappers, but if you are the police, then that’s fine.
“Let’s go wherever you want to take us to.’ So, they took us to their office in the local government office in Anambra State. Before we left, I told my wife, who called my cousin. We somehow led them on, because in order to speak to my wife, I told them that I had a stomach ulcer and that I needed my wife to bring my medication to me.
“When she got the medication for me, I told her to call my cousin and to try to follow us, because even though the men had introduced themselves as police officers, with the way they had scaled the compound’s wall and the gate, I was sceptical about whether they really were policemen. Who would come to search someone’s house in the early hours of the morning without knocking at the gate. They had jumped over the gate, because we did not open the gate for anyone.
“It was a big family compound with three houses in it. They came right inside to the house where I was sleeping. They had scaled the wall in a manner that did not suggest that they were police officers. So, I wanted them to follow us at a distance, to be sure of exactly where we were being taken to. They took one of the cars and actually started to follow us. As I said, they took us first to the Special Anti-Robbery Squad office.
“While we were there, they handed us over to the squad from Awka, the capital of Anambra State. It was led by the State Commandant of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad. It was the State Commandant who, with some other men, put us in another van with three other armed Special Anti-Robbery Squad officers and took us to Awkuzu, which is near Awka in Anambra State; near the state capital where the state SARS has its own state office.
“It was while we were there that the state commandant now handed us over to the person who had come from Abuja to lead the operation. He introduced himself as an Assistant Superintendent of Police. He said he had come from the office of the inspector general of police.
“He said they were the Special Tactical Squad [STS] under the inspector general of police. The State Commandant handed us over to him. He now took our names. So, after the introduction and interrogation, as I was waiting in the reception area of the SARS office, the policemen there started to make derogatory remarks about journalists in general and the online media.
“All this was going on and I still didn’t know why we had been arrested. From what they were saying, it appeared the policemen were all aware that we had been accused of blasphemy in the name of the Inspector General of Police, So, while making all these comments, my younger brother, who, by the way, is a trader and not in any way involved in publishing elombah.com, asked them why they were saying such things about us. ‘Do you know who we are?’ They said ‘no’. ‘Have you met any of us before?’ They said ‘no’. ‘So why are you saying all these bad things about us, even though you don’t actually know us?’
“The policeman who had claimed to be an ASP then slapped him. He slapped him about four times. The other three police officers started to punch and kick him. I said, ‘Why you hitting him?’ The other guy replied, ‘If you think you are a lawyer, be a lawyer in your house, not in this police station.’
“The policeman who had claimed to be an ASP [Assistant Superintendent of Police] then slapped
him. He slapped him about four times. The other three police officers started to punch and kick him. I said, ‘Why are you hitting him?’ The other guy replied, ‘If you think you are a lawyer, be a lawyer in your house, not in this police station.’ I said, ‘Okay. Well, that he asked you a question does not warrant your abusing him, or that you should start to assault him.’’
“Daniel continued ‘‘while the assault was going on, they said we should undress and that they would take us into the cell. So, we started to get undressed right there at the reception, before the leader, who had brought us from Awka, came out of his office and intervened. He asked them to leave us alone, that they had finished interviewing Timothy, and it was now my turn. I went into the room again and asked why we had been arrested. He said that there was an article Timothy had admitted he published on elombah.com. So, I said, ‘Okay, why have I also been arrested if Timothy published an article?’ He replied that it was because my name was Elombah.
“They did not know me or whether or not I was in any way involved with elombah.com, but because my surname was Elombah I had been brought in. I said, ‘How do you know it’s a family business?’ He said because it was elombah.com and my name was Elombah too. I asked him how that made me culpable and asked what the article in question was about. He opened his tablet and brought it up on Google and showed me the article.
“I recognised the article, but it was not one that had been published on elombah.com at all. He showed me an article that had been published on another website.” Daniel then asked for the title of the article and requested to see it, to which a SARS officer responded by performing a Google search on his tablet and showing him an article authored by Dickson Ebiowei on the website opinionnigeria.com, and not elombah.com.
“Daniel Elombah brought this to the attention of the officer, inquiring about the process that had led SARS to associate an article published by Dickson Ebiowei on opinionnigeria.com with Daniel and Timothy. The SARS officer was dismissive and claimed that he had already gone through the process with Timothy, who, allegedly, had admitted that he had written the article and used the name Dickson Ebiowei as a pseudonym.
“Recounting how they were released, Daniel told Amnesty International: “My wife and my friends put the news of our arrest on Facebook, on Twitter and WhatsApp forums. A lot of people started to call them [police] and disturb them. Some of my friends in Abuja who had now become aware of the situation, also came to the SARS office in Abuja. They are all lawyers too and they started to intervene. The Deputy Superintendent of Police [DSP] who worked under the Inspector General Police, came in with two other commissioners of police and started to talk with us.
“They said they would allow us to go, but that we had to admit that we committed a wrong and then we had to apologise to the Inspector General Police. I said, ‘Well I can’t see how I will admit to what I haven’t done and if you detain me here any longer, if I sleep here in this cell, I won’t take kindly to being arrested for something I haven’t done and know nothing about.’ Eventually, they released me and my younger brother Theo on bail at about 12:30pm the next day 2 January 2018, but they detained Timothy and told us to come back the next morning.
“My brother, Timothy Elombah continued to be detained for another twenty-five days after that. When we came back the next day, they took my brother to an Area Court and got a 7-day detention warrant.” Four days after Daniel and Theo were released from SARS custody, the police summoned Daniel. He told Amnesty International, ‘‘I saw that my brother would not be released after the seven days elapsed, so I issued a statement, which I circulated to Nigerian media and which was widely published in the newspapers explaining… that I had not been told why I was arrested or detained with my other brothers.”
“Daniel reported back to the police and also filed an action for the release of his brother Timothy. Daniel and Timothy were both charged under the Cybercrimes Act and the Terrorism Act for cyberstalking, cyber-intimidation and terrorism related offences. On 28 January 2018, Timothy was released after a court order was granted to secure his bail.
“This general atmosphere of fear amongst people living in Nigeria is not something that should be accepted.”
“In May 2018, a judge declared that there had been an infringement on Daniel Elombah’s fundamental human rights and awarded him N5,000,000 (Five million naira) in damages. Till date the judgement has not been implemented.
“We tend to be more careful about what we publish on our website. This general atmosphere of fear amongst people living in Nigeria is not something that should be accepted,” Daniel Elombah told Amnesty International.” [End]
As at the time of writing this report, the criminal matter is still in court, despite the fact that one of the courts has awarded five-million-Naira damages to Daniel for infringement on their fundamental human rights.