Lagos, Nigeria, April 19, 2013–Two Nigerian journalists and their employer have been charged with forgery in connection with their publication of a memo reported to be from President Goodluck Jonathan, according to news reports. If convicted, the journalists could face life terms.
A Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday charged Tony Amokeodo, news editor of the independent daily Leadership, and Chibuzo Ukaibe, the paper’s political reporter, along with Leadership Group Limited, the paper’s parent company, with 10 counts of conspiracy and forgery, according to news reports. The prosecution cited a document published on the cover of the paper’s April 3 edition that it said had been forged.
The document, a purported presidential memorandum, said the president had planned to increase gas prices and sabotage a merger of opposition political parties by targeting their leaders’ business interests in the run-up to the 2015 elections. The paper wrote an accompanying story. The president’s office has denied that the document is authentic and said it was designed to mislead the public and discredit the president, news reports said.
Journalists with Leadership have said they believe the document is genuine and are standing by their story. Amokeodo and Ukaibe, along with representatives from Leadership Group Limited will appear in court on April 23, reports said.
If convicted of forging and publishing a document with a faked presidential seal, the journalists could face life in prison under Nigeria’s Criminal Code. If convicted on the other charges, which include conspiracy, the journalists could face up to 58 years in prison, reports said. It is unclear what the consequences will be for Leadership‘s parent company, if convicted.
“The severity of these charges is an attempt to crack down on critical journalism and silence opposition voices,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The charges against the Leadership journalists should be dropped immediately.”
Police last week arrested and detained Amokeodo and Ukaibe overnight in an attempt to get them to disclose their source for the document. They were released without charge on the condition that they report daily to the police. When the journalists reported to police headquarters on Monday, they were re-arrested and kept overnight, and taken to court the next day, Leadership reported.