New York, October 12, 2006—An Abuja court on Tuesday dropped sedition charges against Mike Gbenga Aruleba, a presenter at African Independent Television (AIT), but retained similar charges against Rotimi Durojaiye of the Daily Independent newspaper in connection with a story questioning the age and cost of the presidential jet, according to news reports and local sources. The charges against Durojaiye were referred to the federal Appeal Court, after the defense claimed they were unconstitutional.
As it withdrew charges against Aruleba and his news organization, Daar Communications, the prosecution said the defendants had shown “sufficient remorse,” according to Agence France-Presse and the Nigerian press freedom group Media Rights Agenda (MRA). But prosecutors said the trial against Durojaiye and his news organization, Independent Newspapers Limited, would continue because they were not “remorseful.”
Both journalists and their organizations, which were named as co-defendants, had pleaded not guilty to the charges. Some local sources told CPJ they believed the government had pressured AIT to express regret; CPJ could not immediately obtain comment from the news organization today.
The charges were brought after AIT picked up Durojaiye’s June 12 story, “Controversy over age, cost of presidential jet.” Durojaiye said research by the Daily Independent showed that the government had bought a five-year-old aircraft from the German carrier Lufthansa and not a new jet directly from Boeing, as it had said.
Both journalists spent several days in jail in connection with the story. Durojaiye told CPJ today that he and his organization are standing by his report.
“The federal government is using outdated criminal charges to suppress a story that could embarrass it in an election year,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Authorities are acting more as autocrats who punish and forgive than as the leaders of a free and open democracy.”