Online Speech

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Online comments, social media posts, and blogs subject to restrictive free speech and public good laws aimed at silencing dissent and policing online speech. Bloggers, journalists, and private citizens have fallen prey to excessive use of these laws. TrialWatch is monitoring cases in which excessive charges are used for something as simple as a Facebook post.


Nigeria: Treason Charges for Tweets Calling for Protests

REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

After the authorities kept him in detention for a month in defiance of a court order releasing him, journalist and opposition figure Omoyele Sowore is currently facing charges of treason and conspiracy to commit treason for tweets calling for protests under the tagline “#RevolutionNow.” A TrialWatch report found that he has been the victim of prosecutorial misconduct following his calls for peaceful protests.

First, the authorities defied the courts after they ordered the defendant released on bail.  Moreover, they offered shifting justifications for pursuing the case. The report also finds that the charges appear to have been brought against Mr. Sowore because the protests he sought to organize were “at odds with the Buhari government’s agenda.”

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At a minimum, Nigeria should let Mr. Sowore return to his home in the United States over the holidays, pending the resumption of his trial.

Stephen Townley - TrialWatch Legal Director

Cameroon: Abusive Pre-Trial Detention for Alleged Online Speech

Journalist Paul Chouta, a prominent government critic who has written about abuses by the police, spent nearly two years in detention before and during his trial, with the authorities delaying his case over and over.  He was ultimately convicted of defamation, publication of insulting language, and false reporting as a cyber offense for allegedly posting a video and letter on Facebook about the personal life of a French-Cameroonian author who has spoken out against opposition movements in the country. He was sentenced to 23 months in prison and released shortly after his conviction due to the time he had already served.

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In this case, there is no reason for Mr. Chouta to have been in pre-trial detention for a day, let alone nearly a year and a half.

Stephen Townley - TrialWatch Legal Director

Bangladesh: Digital Security Act Crackdown


Photojournalist and newspaper editor Shafiqul Islam Kajol faces charges under the DSA in three separate cases after sharing an article on social media about an alleged sex scandal involving Bangladeshi politicians affiliated with the ruling party. Despite the UN Human Rights Committee explaining that “imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty” for defamation, Mr. Islam was held in pre-trial detention for eight month and could receive up to 13 years’ imprisonment if convicted.

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We remain very concerned about the indiscriminate use of the Digital Security Act against Kajol and other journalists in Bangladesh, and have documented many misuses of this law against the press.

CPJ Letter to the Government of Bangladesh

Malaysia: Convicted of Contempt of Court for Online Comments

REUTERS/John Geddie

Malaysiakini, an award-winning independent Malaysian news website, which writes about human rights abuses, press freedom and democracy, was convicted of contempt of court because of online comments by its readers criticizing the judiciary.

The conviction is inconsistent with international human rights standards and will chill freedom of expression by forcing news websites to censor discussion or risk prosecution, a TrialWatch Fairness Report said today. The conviction should be overturned when the Malaysian Federal Court reviews the decision on October 12.

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The result of this decision is that news sites will either have to limit comments or act as an arm of the Malaysian authorities in deciding what’s acceptable and what’s not: either way, it’s the users’ right to freedom of expression that will suffer.

Joan Barata, TrialWatch expert on the case

Indonesia: Convicted Under Cyber Law Corruption Reporting

Muhammad Asrul behind bars

Journalist Muhammad Asrul was convicted of online defamation under the country’s Electronic Information and Transactions (“ITE”) Law and given a three-month sentence for investigative reporting into the alleged involvement of the son of a local official in a corruption scandal.

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