Lagos, Nigeria, August 14, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Nigerian authorities to immediately investigate an attack on the grounds of a government hospital that targeted a photographer seeking to cover the release of the remains of June plane crash victims to their families.
Four assailants beat Benedict Uwalaka, a journalist for Leadership newspaper, with bottles, sticks, and their fists on Thursday as he tried to photograph vehicles that were parked on the grounds of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) blocking access to the mortuary, according to news reports and video footage of the incident. Uwalaka suffered serious injuries to his face, his employer reported. News accounts reported that the assailants, who were identified as attendants of the hospital mortuary, also stole Uwalaka’s mobile phones, camera, and 100,000 naira (US$636).
In response to CPJ’s inquiries, the hospital denied responsibility for the attack and said that the mortuary, though on LASUTH premises, was owned and run by TOS Funeral, a private company.
Leadership has publicly accused two staffers of TOS Funeral of assaulting Uwalaka and reported that police had yet to arrest the suspects. In a telephone interview with CPJ, Ngozi Braide, the Lagos State Police spokesman, refused to discuss the attack.
Dele Ogunsola, the director of TOS Funeral, told CPJ that Uwalaka had instigated the violence. “It is wrong for a journalist to want to publish pictures of remains. It’s very unsympathetic to families,” he said. Uwalaka rejected the accusations, and told CPJ that he had identified his attackers in the police station today.
“Benedict Uwalaka had a right to document a sensitive event of significant public interest without being assaulted by self-appointed monitors of what constitutes news,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. “We call on Nigerian police in Lagos to bring the perpetrators to justice immediately.”
Babatunde Fashola, governor of Lagos State, has promised to bring the assailants to justice, according to news reports. The Nigeria Union of Journalists has also threatened legal action against the management of the government hospital, news reports said.
More than 150 people were killed when a Dana Air plane plunged into a residential neighbourhood of the commercial city of Lagos on June 3, according to news reports. Following the tragedy, the Nigerian government grounded all planes of Dana Air, pending investigations.
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