Musa Muhammad Awwal, left, and Aliyu Saleh were held illegally for more than one week. (Al-Mizan)
Musa Muhammad Awwal, left, and Aliyu Saleh were held illegally for more than one week. (Al-Mizan)

Nigerian journalists freed, but equipment still held

New York, January 2, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS) to return laptops and cell phones confiscated from two journalists who were illegally detained for more than a week without charge.

Editor Musa Muhammad Awwal and reporter Aliyu Saleh of Hausa-language weekly newspaper Al-Mizan were released from the custody of the SSS in the capital, Abuja, early Tuesday morning, defense lawyer Sadiq Marafa told CPJ. “They are in good health. They were treated very well,” Marafa said, but added that the SSS warned the journalists that they could be summoned again as investigations continue. “Throughout our detention we were not told our offense, but they still have our mobile phones and laptops, which they said would be returned to us as soon as they are done with their investigation,” Awwal told Agence France-Presse.

Soldiers arrested the journalists and searched their homes and office in the northern state of Kaduna without warrants on December 24, Marafa told CPJ. Their wives were also detained briefly, he said. The journalists were held incommunicado and were not taken to court despite a legal limit of 48 hours of detention without a court appearance, he said. Their release came after Marafa threatened to sue the government over illegal arrest and detention if the journalists were not let go within 24 hours, according to news reports

Local journalists have said they believe Awwal and Saleh were arrested over a front-page story alleging extrajudicial detentions of 84 civilians suspected of affiliation with the Islamist militant sect Boko Haram, which has been fighting Nigeria’s federal government in a bid to impose Shariah law in the country’s northern, predominantly Muslim states.

“After alleging that the government was engaging in widespread extrajudicial imprisonment, Musa Muhammad Awwal and Aliyu Saleh were themselves subjected to unlawful detention at the hands of state security forces,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “While we welcome the release of the journalists, we call on Nigerian authorities to immediately return all confiscated equipment and to ensure that all journalists are able to report on matters of public security without intimidation.”

Security agents also raided the home of and launched a hunt for Al-Mizan Editor-in-Chief Ibrahim Musa, who went into hiding, according to news reports.

Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, the Nigerian Union of Journalists, and prominent public figures condemned the journalists’ detention, according to news reports. The Commission also urged the government to probe the allegations of extrajudicial detentions.

Al-Mizan is run by the Shiite organization Islamic Movement of Nigeria, according to news reports.