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A Magistrate Court sitting in Calabar, the Cross River State capital and presided over by Chief Magistrate Rita Marshall on Tuesday discharged and acquitted two journalists for alleged misconduct in the RevolutionNow protest of August 5, 2019.
Three charges bordering on conspiracy to unlawfully assemble, unlawful assembly and conduct likely to cause a breach of public peace were preferred against Jonathan Ugbal and Jeremiah Archibong who serve as the News Editor and Managing Editor of CrossRiverWatch, an online news portal following their arrest.
The duo were arraigned on August 7, 2019 and after a lengthy trial with dramatic sequences, the defense counsel, Kehole Enya had filed a no case to answer application adopted on July 15, 2020, which the Court upheld on Tuesday.
Magistrate Marshall held that the prosecution had “woefully and helplessly” failed to establish a prima facie case against the defendants to warrant them to enter a defense and subsequently discharged and acquitted the duo.
Reacting to the ruling of the Court, Mr. Enya said: “Today’s ruling is victory for justice and for our democracy. If our democracy must thrive, then we must fight tyranny till the end. This victory today, supports the course of justice.”
Mr. Enya who said he was confident the prosecution had no case, urged civic space actors to remain steadfast even as he hoped that the judiciary will, “arise to their responsibility of being the hope of the common man and rise up to duty calls.”
For the second defendant, Mr. Archibong, this was, “victory of truth over lies, light over darkness and press freedom over repression.”
Archibong averred that it was clear that there are attempts to “stifle the press and silent the voice of dissents,” but, expressed optimism that it was clear there is a stronger will to “reclaim the shrinking civic space in Cross River, the Niger Delta and Nigeria at large.”
Mr. Jonathan is said to have arrived the venue for the #RevolutionNow protest convened by SaharaReporters founder, Omoyele Sowore, in the morning of August 5th on his way to work to report on it but was arrested by the Anti Cultism and Kidnapping Squad who claimed he had knowledge of the protest before hand and therefore was part of the planning.
Mr. Archibong and Nicholas Kalu, a correspondent for The Nation newspapers then visited the unit to inquire why he was arrested and were both detained. However, Mr. Kalu was released shortly before midnight of August 5th.
And, after several adjournments, the arresting police officer, DSP Igini Chukwuma and the investigating police officer, Sergeant Aaron Adie testified before the court.
Chukwuma told the court that he was ordered to arrest anyone who approached the venue and having seen Jonathan, decided to “take him in.” He said he was later ordered to transfer him to the State Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department which he did and has no knowledge of the investigations after that.
Sergeant Adie in his testimony, denied knowledge of the fact the duo were journalists and could not explain why only two out of the three were charged to court. Also, he said he neither knew the source of livelihood of the duo nor their addresses.
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