The Coalition for Whistleblower Protection and Press Freedom (CWPPF) has called on the Federal Government to order the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. Jones Abiri, publisher of the Weekly Source newspaper, a Yenagoa, Bayelsa State- based publication.
The journalist was reportedly arrested by agents of the Department of State Security (DSS) on July 21, 2016, taken into custody and has not been seen by family, friends and colleagues since then. He has also not been charged before any competent court of law for trial.
A statement from the Coalition said “regardless of whatever offence for which Mr. Abiri is being held, there can be no justification for his continued incarceration without valid court order for two years as such amounts to a flagrant violation of his constitutionally-guaranteed rights to liberty and fair hearing. That he is yet to be charged for any wrongdoing while being held incommunicado for that long clearly constitutes an affront to the rule of law which is an important tenet of democracy.”
The statement noted that on July 21, 2016, about nine armed operatives of the Department of State Security, Nigeria’s secret police arrested Mr. Abiri in Yenagoa and proceeded to search his office and confiscated various documents during a raid, adding that the DSS reportedly emailed a statement to journalists on July 23, 2016 in which it accused Mr. Abiri of involvement in militancy and criminality on the basis of alleged confessional statement he made.
“These allegations were found to be shocking to friends and families of Mr. Abiri who claim repeatedly that he has no connections to militancy or any criminality in the Niger Delta,” the coalition said, noting that “when the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) contacted the DSS in July and November 2016, the officers who answered the telephone calls said they were not authorized to speak about Mr. Abiri’s case. The CPJ quoted Mr. Abdulwaheed Odusile, president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) as well as of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) as saying on October 25, 2017 that: “We don’t know where he is and we don’t know what he has been charged (or held?) for.”
“The Coalition further holds the position that even if Mr. Abiri had committed murder or treason, of which there is no record of such known to the public or brought before the judicial process, he has a right to fair hearing and a trial.
“The Coalition vows to continue to champion the case of Mr. Abiri until the right thing is done by the government and will not be deterred by certain elites who assume, in their disdain for accountability, human rights and press freedom, that using state security machinery to bully the media, as in this particular case, will intimidate the Fourth Estate from holding the government accountable.
“The Coalition however supports a fundamental human rights enforcement suit filed before a Federal High Court in Abuja on behalf of Mr. Abiri by human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) in which he is contending that holding the journalist for about two years incommunicado amounts to a gross and illegal violation of his fundamental human rights. The suit, filed on July 4, 2018, is praying the court to declare that the detention of the journalist without access to his family members, friends and medical doctors since his arrest on July 21, 2016 “as illegal and unconstitutional.” Mr. Falana (SAN) is hinging his claim on the argument that the detention “violates” the applicant’s fundamental rights” guaranteed by Sections 34, 35 and 40 of the Constitution as well as Articles 11 and 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.”
Members of the coalition who signed the statement include the following:
- Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ)
- International Press Centre (IPC)
- Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
- Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)
- Premium Times
- The Cable
- African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
- Daily Trust
- OrderPaper Nigeria