Sahara Reporters
Sahara Reporters

CPJ condemns police harassment of Nigerian editor

New York, February 12, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on police and prosecutors in northern Nigeria to withdraw the threat of arrest and prosecution of Mallam Tukur, left, the editor-in-chief and publisher of the independent weekly, Desert Herald, based in Kaduna State.

Two plainclothes police arrested Tukur on defamation charges at his office in Kaduna on February 8 and took him to a police station in Bauchi State. He was released on bail the following day, the Nigerian Union of Journalists told CPJ. Police then withdrew the charges against Tukur at the Bauchi Magistrate Court on February 10 in order to re-arrest him under new, unspecified charges and take him to neighboring Yobe State, according to local news reports. Tukur told CPJ that the Yobe State judiciary staff has been on strike for the past four months, which would ensure he remains under police detention for a long time period if detained there.

According to defense lawyer Mahmoud Moussa, police attempted to re-arrest Tukur outside the Bauchi courtroom today without an arrest warrant or closure of the original case against him, but lawyers intervened. The initial defamation charges will be officially withdrawn on Monday, Moussa said. Police will then be legally able to arrest him under the new charges.

Local journalists told CPJ they believe police are trying to arrest Turkur because a recent edition of the Desert Herald had accused Yobe State Governor Ibrahim Geidam of rapidly acquiring several housing properties illicitly. The Desert Herald is considered one of a handful of critical independent newspapers still printing in northern Nigeria, local journalists told CPJ. 

“We call on Nigerian authorities to cease harassing Mallam Tukur immediately and allow him to work freely without further threat of prosecution for criminal defamation,” CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes said.

The deputy governor of Yobe State, Danlami Bello, initially attained a warrant to arrest the critical editor for defamation over a September 2009 story in which the governor was alleged to have escaped a conspiracy to poison him, according to Tukur. Governor Geidam had publicly stated last year that there had been a plot to assassinate him, and the matter was widely covered by national newspapers.

Tukur is now in hiding and said he fears the police may arrest him without a warrant at any time. This is his third arrest in the past year, Desert Herald Assistant Editor Umar Abubakar told CPJ.

National police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu did not answer repeated phone calls by CPJ.