CPJ calls for release of two imprisoned journalists

New York, August 14, 2006—Two journalists have been imprisoned in Nigeria’s southeastern Ebonyi state since June 14 on charges of sedition linked to an article criticizing the state governor, the Committee to Protect Journalists has confirmed.

Imo Eze and Oluwole Elenyinmi, respectively director and editor of the local bimonthly Ebonyi Voice, have remained in detention because of virtually impossible bail conditions, according to their lawyer and an official of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). They are due to appear in court August 15 in the state capital Abakiliki.

“The continued prosecution of journalists is undermining Nigeria’s democratic credentials,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on federal and Ebonyi state authorities to ensure that Imo Eze and Oluwole Elenyinmi are released immediately, and that all criminal charges against them are dropped.”

Eze and Elenyinmi were charged with sedition, defamation, and conspiracy in connection with an April 16 article accusing Ebonyi State Governor Sam Ominyi Egwu of corruption and mismanagement, according to several local sources. The prosecutor called the allegations false and designed to tarnish the governor’s image and “expose him to hatred.”

A magistrate set bail at 50,000 naira (US$400) but also required that a civil servant of the rank of Permanent Secretary living within the court’s jurisdiction personally guarantee that the defendants would appear for their hearing. Local journalists said it would be almost impossible to find a permanent secretary to make such a pledge because such civil servants are selected and employed by the state government.

The Nigeria Union of Journalists has taken up the case, NUJ National Secretary Usman Leman told CPJ. NUJ President Adagene Akwu recently visited Ebonyi state and met with the governor to press for the release of the two journalists.

CPJ has documented an increase in harassment of the media in Nigeria in the run-up to elections scheduled for 2007. In June, two television journalists were imprisoned over an article about President Olusegun Obasanjo’s jet. They were charged with sedition and released on bail.