CPJ condemns harassment of journalist

New York, August 27, 2003— The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns recent attempts by the House of Assembly in Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom state to expel journalist Haruna Acheneje from the state, which is located on the country’s southern coast. Acheneje is a correspondent based in Uyo, Akwa Ibom’s capital, for the national daily The Punch.

On August 11, The Punch ran an article by Acheneje titled “Lawmakers protest non-payment of allowances.” The article was based on a series of interviews conducted by Acheneje with House of Assembly members.

The next day, Acheneje received a letter signed by the Speaker of the House, asking him to appear before the House on August 14, according to Acheneje. Acheneje told CPJ that he replied to the letter in writing, requesting that the House contact his head office in Nigeria’s capital, Lagos.

On August 14, the House of Assembly passed a resolution to expel Acheneje from the state. The journalist told CPJ that he learned of the resolution when it was broadcast on state radio. According to Acheneje and his colleagues at The Punch, the newspaper’s Lagos office received a letter on August 15, stating that the journalist had seven days to leave Akwa Ibom.

On August 21, three men arrived at The Punch’s Uyo office, demanding to speak to Acheneje, according to the journalist and his colleagues at the newspaper. Acheneje’s colleagues later told him that they could see pistols protruding from the men’s back pockets. Acheneje’s assistant told the men that he was not there, and when the men left the office, Acheneje called the police.

The police have provided Acheneje with an armed guard who accompanies him during the day and patrols his house at night. Acheneje and his colleagues at The Punch fear that the journalist may become the target of further attempts at intimidation and reprisal.

“This absurd expulsion order against Acheneje is a clear attempt to stifle critical reporting and an abuse of power by Akwa Ibom’s House of Assembly,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.