The Coalition for Press Freedom and Whistleblower Protection (CPFWP) has come out to criticise the Kwara State High Court stalling over the judicial process in a case involving Sahara Reporters and Senate President Bukola Saraki.
The group of whistleblowers and other civil society organisation made their position known in a joint statement signed by 15 of its members on Wednesday.
The court has issued a garnishee order freezing the accounts linked to the online news platform following a libel suit the former governor of Kwara filed against it in Ilprinand its owner Omoyele Sowore for publishing news and opinion the senator claimed are defamatory.
In a Suit No. KWS / 23 / 2017, the court awarded N4 billion against the publisher, Omoyele Sowore, and his medium, SaharaReporters, who are the defendants/respondents in cases of libel brought before it.
Justice Adeyinka Oyinloye issued an order to the United Bank for Africa, UBA and Guaranty Trust Bank, GTB, bankers of Sowore and Sahara Reporters, to freeze all funds held in a string of accounts associated with the defendants.
The defendants will also be paying 10 per cent (N400 million) monthly interest on the N4 billion until both the principal damages and accrued interests are finally cleared.
Sowore had later approached the high court presided by Mr. Oyinloye through his lawyer Falana and Falana Chambers to set aside its judgement.
At the resumed hearing on September 14, scores of journalists and rights activists that went to court that day were attacked by men suspected to be thugs and supporters of Saraki.
The coalition is concerned that every attempt by Sahara Reporters to legally redress the N4 billion judgment awarded against it has been frustrated.
“We are also concerned about the abuse of the judicial process which has led to the freezing of the bank accounts of Sahara Reporters Media Foundation, a completely different legal entity from Sahara Reporters, which has not been accused of any offence, is not a party to any judicial proceedings and against which there is no pending judgment debt or court order,” it said.
“It has been four months since the judgement has been given against Sahara Reporters Media Group (New York) and four months since the account of Sahara Reporters Media Foundation (Nigeria) has been unjustly frozen.
“We are concerned that efforts to move the matter forward has been met with a series of adjournment which now seems more like a delay tactic to ensure that the work of Sahara Reporters Media Foundation is stalled.
“While we recognise the right of Mr. Saraki or any aggrieved party to sue a news medium, the turn of events in this particular issue suggest a twist that is more than meet the eye.
“We condemn any attempt to muscle and intimidate the press through direct or indirect means, as in this case. Any redress sought against any perceived adverse media content should be done within the natural ambit of the law. Media is not above the law and it should also not be muscled through any extra-legal means.
“We call on relevant judicial bodies to closely monitor this case and investigate the contentious judgment and the resultant garnishee order.”