Second U.S.-based Nigerian blogger held

New York, October 31, 2008–Nigeria’s national security agency today confirmed it is holding a U.S.-based Nigerian blogger in the capital, Abuja. This is the second online journalist held for questioning in the past two weeks.

Local journalists told CPJ that the detentions are part of a government crackdown on foreign-based Nigerian political Web sites ever since controversial photos of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s son were published on a popular news blog.

Emmanuel Emeka Asiwe, editor of the Arlington, Mass.-based HuhuOnline, was being “questioned over matters of national security,” according to State Security Service (SSS) spokesman Kenechukwu Onyeogu. The SSS took the blogger into custody today after he arrived from the U.S., he said. But defense lawyer Babalola Akinwumi told CPJ Asiwe was arrested on Tuesday at Lagos’ airport. Asiwe has been held incommunicado and without charge in Abuja ever since, the lawyer said. Nigerian law allows authorities to hold people for up to 48 hours without charge.

“We are concerned that Nigerian authorities are detaining journalists in an attempt to intimidate foreign-based online journalists from reporting on Nigeria,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We call on President Yar’Adua to ensure that the SSS respects due process and stop these actions that undermine Nigeria’s democratic gains and harken back to the era of military rule.”

Jonathan Elendu of the Lansing, Michigan-based ElenduReports was detained for 10 days and was provisionally released without charge on Wednesday. ElenduReports published often controversial reports on corruption among Nigerian politicians. New York-based SaharaReporters recently published exclusive photos of Yar’Adua’s teenage son, Musa, posing with an AK-47 assault rifle and holding cash.

Speaking to CPJ shortly after his release, Elendu said security agents questioned him for five days over his alleged links to SaharaReporters, his sources of information and funding as well as his opinions of the president. Agents also quizzed him about stories discussing Yar’Adua’s health.

Elendu’s travel documents remain confiscated, defense lawyer Ugo Muoma told CPJ. Speaking to CPJ on October 22, SSS spokesman Onyeogu said the journalist had been “invited for questioning on matters of national security” in relations to several of his stories.

In recent months, coverage of sensitive topics, including unrest in the oil-rich southern Niger Delta and Yar’Adua’s health and family, have often resulted in arrests and raids by the SSS, which reports directly to the Nigerian presidency, according to CPJ research. At least seven journalists, including Asiwa and Elendu, have been detained in SSS custody this year alone without charge for days or weeks, according to CPJ research.