CPJ Wants detained 13 journalists, bloggers, and media workers Released
Abuja, Nigeria, September 29, 2016 — Nigerian authorities should
immediately release at least 11 journalists, bloggers, and media support
staff detained in recent days across the country and stop harassing the
media, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
“The impunity with which Nigerian security forces have recently attacked
the press is reminiscent of Nigeria’s darkest days of military rule,” said
CPJ West Africa Representative Peter Nkanga. “We call on President
Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to reverse this alarming slide and let
journalists do their jobs without fear of reprisal.”
At around 1:45 a.m. on September 21, military soldiers and officers of
Nigeria’s special police, the State Security Service, arrested 10
journalists and media workers from the independent news website Watchdog
Media News at the Douban Hotel in Benin, the capital of the southern
Nigerian state of Edo, their employer reported. The crew was in the city
to cover gubernatorial elections scheduled to take place today, according
to news reports.
Watchdog Media reported that the journalists were “brutalised,” and were
arrested wearing only their underwear. Taiye Garrick, the editor of
Watchdog Media, told CPJ that witnesses said the crew were beaten with
barbed wire and had cold water poured on their bodies before they were
arrested. The elections were initially scheduled for September 10, but
were postponed based on fears that “hoodlums” were planning to disrupt
voting, according to press reports.
According to press reports, army spokesman Col. Sani Usman said in a
September 22 statement that the army acted on “credible security reports”
that hired “hoodlums” were in the hotel preparing to attack the state.
He said the journalists were arrested in possession of incriminating,
sensitive election material, without elaborating, and that they had not
identified themselves as journalists.
“All the suspects were treated humanely and in the most dignified manner,”
he said, according to the Premium Times.
Watchdog Media subsequently published pictures of the crew conducting
interviews on the streets of Benin while wearing their press credentials.
Garrick told CPJ that the SSS is targeting his newspaper because of
material the staff collected while covering the Edo South senatorial
district before the elections, which were initially scheduled for
September 10, but postponed over security concerns.
The crew returned to the state on September 20 to cover the Edo North and
Edo Central senatorial districts ahead of the September 28 elections.
Garrick said he refused an SSS invitation to visit its office in Edo
State, where his crew has been held without access to family or a lawyer,
because he feared arrest himself, according to news reports.
The 10 journalists and media workers have not yet been arraigned.
“The Edo State government wants to stop us from reporting the elections
because, sincerely, the facts we were getting from the opinion polls we
were running from our call centre and ‘vox-pop’ interviews with people on
the streets were really damaging against them,” Garrick said.
According to press reports, those arrested include: production manager
Tony Abulu; reporters Richard Hasley, Opara Uche, and Handy Romeo Eze;
video editor Kelvin Toryila; information technology specialists Lanre
Ogunleye, Balogun Ehigie, and Kenneth Danpome; a logistics manager
identified only as Mathew; and driver Joe Epi.
At a press conference in the city of Benin yesterday, the head of the Edo
State branch of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Roland Osakwe, said the
union was “seriously embarrassed” to discover the detained men were not
journalists, and “disclaimed” them on behalf of the union “as a way of
sending a clear message to those who find it most convenient to
impersonate members of the pen profession for pecuniary gains.”
Asked about the NUJ’s statement, three journalists at Watchdog
Media’sAbuja office and Garrick, the website’s editor, today told CPJ that
those detained were their colleagues. Garrick said he was planning on
bringing a defamation suit regarding Osakwe’s comments on behalf of the
In a separate event, police from the northern Nigerian state of Katsina on
September 19 arrested Jamil Mabai — the publisher of Cliqq Magazine and a
columnist with Katsina Reporters – in the neighboring state of Kaduna
after Mabai on September 6 took to social media to criticize Aminu Masari,
the governor of Katsina State, over the government’s distribution of 3,000
coffins to mosques while it was unable to pay civil servants their
salaries, according to news reports.
Katsina Police Commissioner Usman Abdullahi said that Mabai was arrested
following the state government’s complaint over his tweets, according to
news reports. Abdullahi justified Mabai’s arrest by saying “We had to
invite him to assist the police.”
Abdu Labaran, Masari’s spokesman, denied that the state reported the
blogger to the police, the reports said.
A magistrate court on September 22 said it had no jurisdiction in the case
and remanded Mabai to prison pending a trial before another court. Peter
Israel, Mabai’s lawyer, told CPJ that police charged Mabai with inciting
disaffection against the government.
In a second session today, the magistrate insisted on remanding Mabai to
prison custody until the prosecution could apply to try the case before a
competent higher court, Israel said. Mabai remains in state custody.
Bloggers Bashir Dauda and Umar Faruq were detained on September 19 and
arraigned September 22 on charges of abetment for writing about Mabai’s
story with the “intent to cause civil disturbance” and “to expose governor
Masari to public ridicule,” news reports said . Israel told CPJ that the
two were released, pending trial, on September 27.
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