Human Rights Watch Condemns Arrest, Detention Of Journalists

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The Human Rights Watch has condemned the arrest and detention of Nigerian journalists, describing the recent action by security agencies as “a disturbing trend against the freedom of expression.”

In a report released yesterday, the group said it was unacceptable that journalists in Nigeria have been held incommunicado for one case for  “nearly two years, and in another, an activist said he was tortured.”

It said the arrest and detention of journalists send “a chilling message to journalists in Nigeria,”  and declared that  the Federal Government “needs to end any harassment and ensure that members of the press operate without fear.”

Listing some cases, the report by Ewang, who is a Nigerian researcher at Human Rights Watch, said an Abuja Magistrate’s Court on August 16, 2018, “conditionally released Jones Abiri, a journalist and publisher of Weekly Source Newspaper in Yenegoa, Bayelsa State. He had been held for more than two years after his July 26, 2016 arrest by State Security Service agents.

“In another recent case, the Police Special Anti-Robbery Squad arrested and detained a Premium Times journalist, Samuel Ogundipe, on August 14. Premium Times reported he was arrested for refusing to disclose his source for his August 9 article about a report by the Police Inspector General, Ibrahim Idris, to acting President Yemi Osinbajo. The police said Ogundipe was arrested and charged for theft and unlawful possession of restricted and classified documents. He was conditionally released on August 17, but his trial is set to begin on August 23. In January 2017, the police raided the Premium Times office in Abuja and arrested the publisher, Dapo Olorunyomi, and the judiciary correspondent, Evelyn Okakwu.

“They were released after a few hours. The arrest was allegedly carried out based on a complaint filed by the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, after Premium Times published damning reports alleging corruption and human rights violations by the military.”

The group said a 38-year-old Niger Delta activist, “whose name is withheld for his protection, described to Human Rights Watch the torture he said he suffered while in State Security Service detention for 15 months. He said he was arrested on August 2, 2016 in Warri, Delta State in the Niger Delta, by six men “gestapo style” and flown to Abuja on a presidential jet. He said he was beaten, strapped to a bench face up for hours in the sun, and given shocks to his genitals to force a false confession of involvement with a militant group known as the Niger Delta Avengers.”

On the recent sack of former Director General of  The Department of State Services (DSS) over the invasion of the National Assembly by operatives of the DSS, the Human Rights Watch said: “Firing Lawal Daura is not enough to transform the abusive State Security Service into a rights-respecting institution, without overhauling the systems that make abuse possible. “Nigerian authorities should take immediate steps to end the pervasive atmosphere of fear and intimidation by security agencies. Dropping all charges against Jones Abiri and Samuel Ogundipe for exercising free expression is a good place to start.”