"Police Arrested Me for Speaking against a Religious Leader. Is It an Offence?" Lawyer Reacts

"Police Arrested Me for Speaking against a Religious Leader. Is It an Offence?" Lawyer Reacts

  • A man criticised an Imam's political campaigning during prayers on Facebook, only to be arrested by the police later, allegedly at the Imam's behest, for "abusing" him
  • The man who spoke anonymously said he went through hell at the police station before he was granted bail
  • Legal expert Stanley Alieke explains the position of Nigerian law on the matter, clarifying whether or not one can be arrested for speaking against a (religious) leader

A man who spoke to Legit.ng anonymously said the police arrested him for speaking against an Islamic leader in his community.

Police/Nigerian Lawer
A man who spoke anonymously said the police arrested him for speaking against an Islamic leader. Note: Photo used for illustration purpose only
Source: Getty Images

On the eve of the recently conducted bye-elections in Nigeria, an Imam in my community turned the pulpit into a campaign ground, asking the congregation to vote for a certain candidate and party.

I felt this was wrong, and after the prayers, I took to my Facebook to write a post condemning the Imam's action.

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Days later, the police arrested me allegedly on the orders of the Imam. They said he reported me for "abusing" him. I didn't abuse him but spoke against his decision to turn a religious ground into a political rally. I went through hell at the hands of the police officers before I was granted bail after almost 24 hours in their custody.

Have I committed any offence by speaking against the religious leader?

Legal expert Stanley Alieke reacts

Barrister Stanley Alieke is an Abuja-based legal practitioner, human rights activist and managing partner at Stanley Alieke & Co., Law Capitol.

Generally speaking, no person has the power to order the arrest of another for speaking up against him (be it a public servant or a private citizen) unless what the speaker said against the person was defamatory or false.

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You can be arrested for defamation or making some defamatory utterances against the religious leader.

If you're charged to court, your case file will not read; “that you are charged for speaking against a religious leader”. There is no offence as such. Rather, the case file would read “charged for defamation, " which contravenes 373 of the Criminal Code Act and is punishable under section 375.

Idi Amin is credited with making this funny but true assertion that “there is Freedom of Speech, but I cannot guarantee Freedom after Speech”.

You should know that while you are free to express your thoughts and speak freely as provided by section 39 of the constitution, you must also be mindful not to make defamatory statements about others, as this could lead to potential liability for defamation.

Everyone has the constitutional right to protest, speak freely, air his or her displeasure and also the right to criticise persons, especially public officials, but while exercising such rights, your criticism should be constructive because such right does not give you the impetus to defame, impune and tell falsehood against another person, not even a public official.

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You should know that when your criticism is defamatory, the person can take up an action against you for defamation.

You have the right to criticise your leaders or say anything you like about them, but they also have the concurrent right to sue you for damages if your criticisms against them are defamatory, false, or damaging to their reputation.

What is defamation?

Section 373 of the Criminal Code Act defined defamatory matter as “matter likely to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by any injury to his reputation”.

So, from the provisions of this section, we can deduce that for something to be tagged defamatory, such a thing must, first of all, be false, and it must be damaging to the person's reputation.

According to section 375 of the criminal code, the punishment for defamation is a one-year jail term.

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So, if you were arrested for and charged with defamation, your possible defences can rest on whether your statements were true and whether they are fair comments on a matter of public benefit.

If you were arrested for other things or other backyard offences which are unknown to our laws, your constitutional right to free speech has been breached, and you have a right of action against the law enforcement agency that arrested you for fundamental right enforcement.

Ex-PDP spokesman remanded over alleged defamation

In a related development, Chika Nwoba, a former spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ebonyi state, was remanded in a correctional centre by an Abakaliki magistrate court.

Nwoba is always battling with government officials over his critical comments on social media, especially on Facebook.

The former PDP spokesperson, who appeared in court on Tuesday, February 13, faces a three-count charge of conspiracy, false publication and defamation.

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Disclaimer: Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers' decisions about solving marital problems. Readers should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any decision.

Do you have a story to tell? Want an expert's advice? Please email us at ask.an.expert@corp.legit.ng with 'Ask an expert' in the subject line.

Source: Legit.ng

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